Veteran politician and familiar face inside and outside the Eurobubble, Guy Verhofstadt’s appointment made immediate waves, despite the fact that the European Parliament will most likely have the least power in the Brexit negotiations. One of the few politicians in the European Quarter who can demonstrate charisma and a flair for oratory, Verhofstadt is an avowed federalist.
The current Leader of the centrist ALDE group of Liberal MEPs, Verhofstadt has been involved in politics since the early 1970s. In 1978 he was elected to the Belgian Parliament and served three times as Belgian Prime Minister (1999-2008). He has been an MEP since 2009.
His appointment was controversial and seen as a provocation in the eyes of his Eurosceptic parliamentary colleagues. Nigel Farage, with whom Verhofstadt has often hotly debated in the Parliament, stated that “Guy Verhofstadt hates everything we stand for, which should mean a much shorter renegotiation,” while the leader of the ECR political group of Tory MEPs, Syed Kamall, called the appointment “a stitch-up”.
Despite all the noise, it is unclear how much actual power and influence the Parliament will have during the Brexit negotiations. It is certain, however, that it will have a deciding vote on the final deal between the EU and the UK, something which Verhofstadt never forgets to emphasise. The Constitutional Affairs Committee will take the lead on behalf of the Parliament and a Brexit Steering Group was set up, which Verhofstadt chairs. It can also be expected that the Parliament, in choosing a strong personality to lead the negotiations on its part, is hoping and expecting to be more influential in the Brexit process. This comes following the preceding wrangling between the Commission and the Council over who gets to lead on the process.
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