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Blow to Macron plans for pan-EU MEPs after Brexit

Strasbourg - The European Parliament has rejected proposals backed by French President Emmanuel Macron for the introduction of some pan-EU lawmakers after Brexit.

MEPs on Wednesday approved an overall package of reforms including a system giving the largest group in parliament the right to choose a successor to European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.

But they voted against a plan for so-called "transnational lists" -- which would allow 30 of the 73 seats vacated by Britain to be elected on pan-European tickets, instead of by standing in individual member states.

Macron had strongly backed the idea as part of his ambition for a sweeping reboot of the European Union once Britain leaves in March 2019.

He also reportedly had wanted to launch his Republic on the Move party -- the centrist, pro-EU movement that shook up French politics as Macron rocketed to the French presidency last year -- on a European level ahead of next year's EU elections.

Macron's office said it regretted the European Parliament's decision but said that "France will continue to defend this idea" in the future.

He won support from Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who questioned why national leaders would now back the system for picking a new EU commission chief -- called Spitzenkandidat, or leading candidate in German.

"Why should we have Spitzenkandidaten if we have no transnational list for elections?!" he said in a personally signed tweet.


- 'Weep not!' -


Many European leaders had feared the idea would be hijacked by anti-EU candidates, for example France's Marine Le Pen or Greek former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Varoufakis, the leftist who led a brief but fiery resistance against the eurozone in bailout talks in 2015, said Wednesday's decision was a "major own goal, but weep not!", as he was coordinating a list of candidates in several countries to join forces.

The next European elections will take place in May 2019, two months after Britain leaves the EU.

The European Parliament warned on Wednesday that it would vote against any candidate to replace Juncker who was not chosen by the assembly's biggest political bloc.

"Parliament is ready to reject any contender for EU Commission president who is not nominated as a 'lead candidate' ahead of the 2019 EU elections," it said in a statement after backing the plan by 457 votes to 200 against, with 20 abstentions.

The system -- widely known as "Spitzenkandidat" or lead candidate -- was used to pick Juncker in 2014 and MEPs say it makes the choice more democratic.

But it is opposed by many national leaders who view it as a backroom stitch-up that freezes out the governments of EU member states.

By Marine Laouchez