EU leaders have been rocked by uncertainty as the “grand coalition” looks set to crumble
Now, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk enjoy major power through the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group, which also controls the Commission and the Council.
Mr Schulz, a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), last week announced his plans to step down and return to Germany to run for a seat in the Bundestag.
His role was supposed to pass to the EPP but the resignation has caused a rush for the post which could feel tip the balance out of the bureaucrats’ favour.
Party leaders stood up to be counted this week, announcing they feel they should take the role after Gianni Pittella, the Italian leader of the S&D, officially declared his candidacy.
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) — which could provide the decisive votes in an alliance with either the EPP or S&D — moved swiftly to increase his leverage by shoving aside French MEP Sylvie Goulard, an ALDE member who had sought to put herself forward as a compromise candidate.
Mr Goulard withdrew after Mr Verhofstadt was given unanimous support from the group.
Announcing his intention to run, Mr Pitella said: “The compromise on which we based our legislative collaboration, which has been carried out in the past two years and a half, was broken — and not by us.
“We think there should be a new phase with a new progressive agenda for the second half of the legislation.”
The concern comes after Mr Pittella declared that the S&P would no longer be singing from the same EU hymn sheet which has been put out by Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk.
Even if he loses against German MEP Manfred Weber, EPP leader, his vow to shake up the institution has Europhiles worried.
Mr Pitella, who wants to back away from the “grand coalition” or “Große Koalition” wants to fight German-led economic austerity policies which have rocked Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal.
He told POLITICO: “For us socialists, the grand coalition has never existed.
“There has been legislative cooperation, borne out of the necessity to go ahead on parliamentary work.
“The great coalition creates an obligation that on every legislative file we have to agree.
“But it didn’t happen like that because many times we and the EPP have voted differently.”
The coalition is used to push the Commission’s agenda through parliament during its five-year term.
Now, this very arrangement is at risk and those at the top could lose control of the institutions they have held tight to for so long.
Mr Juncker’s chief of staff, Martin Selmayr told POLITICO: “In the European Union, we are going through a big crisis, many big crises.
“And the mandate is five years. And if you want to get something done, you don’t change the team in the middle of it.”
Mr Pitella politician is calling for support for “new economic politics” and has said he will work with any party expect extreme right-wingers.
MEPs from other parties also slammed the Große Koalition, which was held together in part by regular dinner meetings of the so-called G5: Juncker, Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, Schulz, Weber and Pittella.
Jean Arthuis, a French MEP from the ALDE group, said: “We had the impression that the EU was governed by a board of directors led by Juncker and Schulz.
“That had brought too much resentment and not enough debate in the Parliament.”
Mr Juncker has increasingly used the grand coalition to run the Commission – and he was clearly enjoying the agreement.
In recent months he expressed support for Schulz to stay on as Parliament president for an unprecedented third term — despite the agreement calling for the presidency to be passed to his own party, the EPP.
Under parliamentary rules, to be elected president a candidate must win an absolute majority of the votes cast, which means 50 percent plus one.
The Parliament is comprised of 751 members, so 376 votes are needed to win the presidency.
The EPP holds 216 seats, while the S&D has 189, the ECR has 74 and ALDE has 69.
Allegiances tend to break along party lines, but also nationally with Germany having 96 MEPs, followed by France with 74, and Italy and the U.K. with 73 each.