The Parliament presidency election is set for January 2022 but Mr Sassoli is yet to declare whether he will put himself forward for a second term. Political groups in the European Parliament made a deal in 2019 that would see a representative of the European People’s Party become the new Parliament leader, but the Socialists – Mr Sassoli’s group – are yet to confirm whether they will stick to the deal or not.
Some in the Parliament believe that failing to back the EPP candidate would be a “kamikaze” move by the Socialists.
The group is meeting to discuss whether to back EPP candidate Roberta Metsola or to put forward its own nominee.
French President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that his party would be sticking to the cross-party deal.
Officials from Renew – the French leader’s group – have backed Mr Macron’s intention, making it more difficult for Mr Sassoli to even consider running for a second term.
One Renew official said: “Renew honours agreements, and we will honour the 2019 power sharing agreement.”
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One Socialist official told Playbook that whichever decision the group will take today after the meeting, it will have to be accepted by the incumbent president.
They said: “Sassoli has never officially declared he would run, and he will accept whatever the Socialists decide.”
EPP leader Manfred Weber warned earlier this month that showing resistance to Roberta Metsola’s candidacy could damage cooperation between different groups in the future.
He said: “It would seriously damage the cooperation between us [and] it will destabilise the start of the French presidency.”
France takes on the rotating six-month presidency of the EU at a time of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic aftermath, tensions with Russia, and heightened business rivalries with China and the United States.
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Speaking at a news conference at which he presented France’s January-to-June EU programme, Mr Macron said: “We must move from a Europe of cooperation within our borders to a Europe that is powerful in the world, fully sovereign, free in its choices and master of its destiny.”
A major priority, he said, would be immigration, at a time when Belarus stands accused of engineering a refugee crisis by flying migrants in the Middle East and pushing them to attempt to illegally cross its borders into EU states Poland and Lithuania.
Among France’s proposals will be setting up an emergency reaction force to assist EU states facing crises at their borders, Mr Macron said.
He also wants the bloc to have regular political meetings on migration – like eurozone states already do on economic matters.
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The bloc has been deeply divided for years in its response to immigration and how to police the common external borders of its Schengen area, and it remains to be seen how much France can achieve during its presidency of the EU Council of Ministers – which mostly encompasses the agenda for meetings.
But President Macron faces a presidential election in April, and conservative and far-right parties are likely to make migration, on which he is viewed by some as a soft touch, a campaign issue.
Key also to ensuring the EU’s sovereignty is to progress on defence issues, the French leader added.
Since his election in 2017, Mr Macron has been pushing for the EU to stand independent in terms of security, and no longer rely solely on US military protection inherited from World War Two.
A major aspect there will be pushing for an EU carbon border tax on a series of imports, something already put forward by the EU’s executive Commission to protect European industries from competitors abroad whose manufacturers can produce at lower cost because they are not charged for their carbon output.
Turning to the economic impact of COVID-19, Mr Macron said he would organise an EU growth summit in March.
Boosting the bloc’s growth model would require adjusting budget rules to make them more simplified and transparent, he said.
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