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Meloni camp pulls ahead of Macron’s in EU parliament

Italy's Giorgia Meloni is demanding more representation for her European Conservatives and Reformists group after the right won big — and the party of France's Emmanuel Macron lost badly — in EU parliamentary elections this month.

BRUSSELS (AFP) — The far-right EU parliament group led by Giorgia Meloni's party is on track to overtake its centrist rival linked to France's Emmanuel Macron — as the Italian leader pushes for a greater say in a battle for the bloc's top jobs.

The jostling for position comes ahead of an EU leaders' summit next week to allocate the influential jobs — largely based on the weight of the parliament's political groups following this month's election.

Meloni believes the relative success of her European Conservatives and Reformists, the ECR, should translate to a key spot in the carve-up of positions and has been making her views known.

"It is a role of the highest rank that I intend to claim for Italy," she told Il Giornale newspaper on Wednesday, calling it "surreal" that fellow leaders had floated an initial lineup without involving her camp.

Parliamentary insiders however say the balance of power in the 720-seat European legislature remains essentially unchanged from the last election.

It lies with a centrist tie-up made up of the conservative European People's Party, the EPP, the biggest group with 189 seats; the leftist Socialists & Democrats, S&D, with 136; and the liberal Renew Europe that includes the French president's party.

But a provisional parliament tally as of Friday had ECR, dominated by Meloni's Brothers of Italy party, edging into third place with 83 seats, versus Renew's 81.

And Renew's count was poised to shrink even further, after Czech party ANO — which has seven EU lawmakers — said Friday it was leaving to seek a new home.

A Renew spokesman said it was not yet possible to say what number the group would end up with.

But in further bad news for the group, a source close to Renew said five lawmakers with the pan-European Volt party it had been chasing had opted to join the Greens instead.

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Numbers game

The final counts will be known by Wednesday, just ahead of an EU summit on Thursday and Friday meant to settle nominations for the European Commission, the European Council and the bloc's top foreign policy official.

A second term for the EPP's Ursula von der Leyen as commission chief seems likely after leaders voiced broad agreement on her candidacy in Brussels this week — though she still needs backing from a majority in parliament.

The names put forward for the other jobs are: former Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa, of the S&D, for European Council president; and Renew's Kaja Kallas, the current Estonian premier, as the EU's foreign policy "high representative."

Current European Parliament speaker Roberta Metsola, also from the EPP, is seen staying on in her chair.

But attempts by the EPP to muscle in on the positions up for grabs and Meloni's indignation at not having the ECR considered in the nominations have cast a cloud over the process.

Meloni unrelenting

Even if the ECR does end up overtaking Renew, an EPP parliamentary source insisted it would not fundamentally change the balance in the legislature — where the centrist alliance commands a majority with around 400 seats.

Although the far right did relatively well in the elections, it remains splintered into various factions in the parliament, with the ECR the biggest.

Sandro Gozi, an Italian member of the Renew group, said: "We are convinced that we will remain at the core and an inseparable part of the majority."

Meloni, however, shows no sign of relenting.

"The elections have clearly shifted Europe's center of gravity to the right," she told Il Giornale.

"In the current parliament, on various dossiers, we will see that there can be a change in the subjects, in the priorities, in the way of reading some policies," she said.

In the lead-up to the EU elections, von der Leyen courted Meloni as a way of covering her bases.

But the leftist S&D have made clear that any alliance von der Leyen makes with Meloni would cost her its support.

By MARC BURLEIGH Agence France-Presse

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