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Socialists and Liberals re-elect their leaders by acclamation, keeping the status quo

Iratxe García Pérez and Valérie Hayer were re-elected leaders of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe, respectively.
Iratxe García Pérez and Valérie Hayer were re-elected leaders of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and Renew Europe, respectively. Copyright European Union, 2024.
Copyright European Union, 2024.
By Jorge Liboreiro
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Spain's Iratxe García Pérez and France's Valérie Hayer will respectively preside over the socialist and liberal groups.

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The next European Parliament will be led by familiar faces.

Following their constitutive meetings on Wednesday afternoon, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) and the liberals of Renew Europe re-elected their sitting leaders, betting on the status quo to weather what is expected to be a rowdy hemicycle where ambitious legislation will be subject to bitter, protracted fights.

Spain's Iratxe García Pérez, a close ally to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, was endorsed by her fellow socialists for a new term. With 136 seats, the S&D remains the second-largest force in the Parliament and the leading voice in the progressive camp.

"We want to insist and to work with our priorities: equality, democracy, rule of law, of course, a strong agenda for a social democratic and sustainable Europe," García Pérez said after her victory was confirmed.

"We have to continue with our ambitions about the Green Deal, investing in industry and continued support to Ukraine and peace in the Middle East."

Meanwhile, France's Valérie Hayer, whom President Emmanuel Macron entrusted with leading a bruising campaign against the far-right National Rally, was chosen as president of Renew Europe, despite her delegation's poor performance at the polls.

Due to the collapse of Macron's Renaissance, Renew Europe has fallen from 102 to 74 MEPs, weakening the party's traditional role of kingmaker between right and left.

Both leaders were elected by acclamation as no challenger was put forward.

In the case of S&D, the better-than-expected results of Italy's Partito Democratico (PD) initially fuelled speculation that an Italian candidate would be put forward to dethrone García Pérez, who hails from Spain's Partido Socialista Obrero (PSOE).

But that did not come to pass and García Pérez cruised to the top spot.

One of her first tasks will be to lead the negotiations with Ursula von der Leyen, who needs the socialist votes to secure her re-election as European Commission president. Asked about possible compromises, García Pérez said her group would "negotiate policies" but warned that "this cannot be a blank check."

"We have to speak about our priorities and we will be very serious in this way," she said.

Rough times for the liberals

Hayer's chances were more in doubt, at least briefly.

Sophie Wilmès, a former prime minister of Belgium who successfully led the liberal list in the country, was seen as a formidable contender to replace Hayer and end the years-long grip that French lawmakers have had on Renew Europe's stewardship.

Wilmès was backed by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE), which encompasses representatives from Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Estonia and Ireland, among others, meaning she could have gathered the necessary votes.

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The Belgian, however, did not put herself forward.

Instead, Portugal's João Cotrim de Figueiredo, a first-time winner for the Iniciativa Liberal party, surprisingly threw his hat in the ring. His lack of experience in Brussels and low political profile doomed his bid. After it became clear that other ALDE delegations were not ready to support his long-shot candidacy, Cotrim de Figueiredo withdrew and submitted a nomination to be one of the group's new vice presidents.

The absence of rivals paved the way for Hayer, ensuring Paris remains in the driving seat of the liberal family.

"Our political position makes us indispensable. There's no majority without us," Hayer said. "We will continue to be at the core of the central and pro-European majority."

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Despite the recent exit of the seven MEPs from Czechia, which further limited the liberal influence, Hayer insisted Renew Europe is "an attractive group" and promised to announce new members on Wednesday and "probably also next week."

The re-election of García Pérez and Hayer comes days after the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which won the elections with 189 seats, confirmed Germany's Manfred Weber as the group's leader.

Weber, who has held the position since 2014, also ran unopposed.

The Greens chose a pair of well-known faces, Terry Reintke and Bas Eickhout, as co-chairs for the next mandate. They were the only candidates for the post.

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