BRUSSELS — French MEP Valérie Hayer is all but certain to become the new leader of the Parliament’s third-largest political grouping, Renew Europe.
The group, made up of liberal and centrist lawmakers, has been without a permanent president since Stéphane Séjourné became France’s foreign affairs minister earlier this month.
Hayer, 37, is the sole candidate in an election to be held by Renew’s 101 MEPs on Thursday morning, according to an internal document circulated to lawmakers by Renew’s Secretary General Philip Drauz and seen by POLITICO.
Hayer is co-leader of Emmanuel Macron’s Europe Together delegation in the Parliament; her taking over its leadership means the Renew group stays firmly in French hands.
Malik Azmani, a senior Dutch liberal who was a stopgap president, was widely said to have been interested in the role, as was French lawmaker Marie-Pierre Vedrenne — but neither put themselves forward in the end. Vedrenne has become leader of the French delegation in Renew.
One person familiar with the negotiations said that Azmani struck a deal with Hayer under which he would not compete with her for the job in order to avoid splitting the group. Under the deal, Azmani — who did not immediately reply to a request for comment — would retain his role as first vice president and whip, and also be involved with Hayer in future political negotiations.
Three delegations inside Renew other than her own proposed Hayer: Azmani’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Romania’s Reper and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), one group insider said.
The VVD is holding coalition talks back home with far-right politician Geert Wilders, who won the Dutch election in November. In the lead-up to June’s elections, Renew has been pushing a staunchly pro-European message in Brussels, warning against collaborating with far-right parties.
A Renew spokesperson said the group was happy to have a single candidate. “This was the wish and the best-case scenario,” she said.
Renew is currently the third-largest group in the European Parliament — but according to recent polls, it could slide into fourth or even fifth position after the June EU election due to a resurgent right.
Although a relatively unknown parliamentarian, Hayer has been steadily building a reputation as a savvy media operator and expert on issues relating to the EU’s budget.
Elisa Braun contributed to this article.
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