European Parliament: Italy's Antonio Tajani snags EU top job

Strasbourg:  An affable and and canny Italian politician, Antonio Tajani on Tuesday snagged the European Parliament's top job in a comeback of sorts for his mentor Silvio Berlusconi.

Silver-haired, sharp-suited and with a fondness for luxury watches, the 63-year-old pro-European conservative is well connected after a long spell in EU politics.

A good communicator in several foreign languages — he speaks French, English and Spanish — he "speaks a lot but never says anything," one parliamentary source joked.

Formerly a journalist with Italy's Rai television and Il Giornale newspaper, Tajani is a founding member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

He has long spread the former Italian premier's influence in the centre-right European People's Party, the biggest bloc in the European Union's only elected body.

Antonio Tajani. Wikimedia Commons

Antonio Tajani. Wikimedia Commons

Tajani strictly follows Berlusconi's dress code and style: dark suit, discreet tie, firm handshake and fresh breath.

His election is a setback for Manfred Weber, the head of the EPP group. "Tajani was not his candidate. He is too controversial because of his links with industry, too branded by Berlusconi," an aide to Weber told AFP.

Weber's favourite was former French minister Alain Lamassoure but the EPP voted by secret ballot and the Frenchman was swept aside amid the distrust of German lawmakers, the aide said.

"Antonio Tajani won because he was always loyal and because each elected member knew him personally," German member of the European Parliament Andreas Schwab told AFP.

He knows everyone

Tajani's greatest strength is he knows just about everyone not only in the 751-seat parliament, where he has been since 1994, but also in the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU.

He served as EU transport commissioner in 2008-10 and then as industry commissioner in 2010-14.

"He has done favours for an enormous number of people and many elected members owe him," an EPP official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

When he was a member of the EU executive, Tajani boasted he was Spain's second commissioner because the socialist Joaquin Almunia — then in the Jose Manuel Barroso team - was a strong opponent of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative.

"He has really no enemies. Tajani is an affable networker," another official said.

However, he recently ran into heavy flak over his handling of the Volkswagen "Dieselgate" pollution cheating scandal.

Meanwhile EU parliamentarians have remarked on the irony of a Berlusconi disciple replacing Germany's Martin Schulz, whose political career was effectively launched by a clash with the former Italian premier.

Berlusconi once compared Schulz to a Nazi concentration camp "kapo" after the German had alluded to tycoon-turned-politician Berlusconi's business affairs. Schulz then won praise for his dignified response.

Tajani will however seek to differentiate himself from his predecessor, who made the job of European Parliament head far more powerful and prominent that it had ever been.

"We don't need a powerful president of the European parliament. We need a strong European Parliament," Tajani said.

"I am a consensus man. I want to be president of all the members of parliament."

Published Date: Jan 18, 2017 11:51 AM | Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 11:51 AM