Yorkshire MEP's stand against presidential 'stitch-up'

Diana Wallis MEP Image copyright bbc
Image caption Diana Wallis stood as a candidate in the election for a new president of the European Parliament

Staunch Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Diana Wallis shrugged off her yellow T-shirt this week and stood as an independent candidate in the election for a new president of the European Parliament.

It was the only way she could highlight what many have been calling the "anti-democratic stitch-up" by the two biggest political groupings to take turns to have one of its MEPs elected to the most important post in the European Parliament.

She simply would not agree to a deal which her own party was part of, so had to become a temporary independent to fight her corner.

Constitutionally, when the 736 MEPs from the 27 member states assembled after the last European elections in 2009 they should have held a secret ballet to elect a president for the full five-year term of the parliament.

Arch opponents

What has actually happened since the 1990s is that an alliance of Liberals and the Socialists in the parliament makes a deal with the group which would normally be their arch opponents, the centre right parties.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Voters backed Martin Schultz for the European presidency

Between them they command an overwhelming majority which goes to just one candidate.

The deal gets even more complicated when the winner steps aside after just two and a half years, forcing a by-election where the votes are switched to the other side's candidates.

So in 2009 the Pole Jerzy Buzek of the centre right People's Party won an overwhelming majority, and he announced he would resign in January 2012 for a by-election to allow German Social Democrat Martin Schultz to take over.

Badly dented

This angered Diana Wallis who argues there should be total democracy in choosing someone who presides over parliamentary debates and signs the EU budget and laws before they can be enacted.

So she threw a spanner in the works by persuading 40 other MEPs to sign her nomination papers allowing her to take part in the election.

It was thought that she would be hard pressed to buck the system and gain any more support in the actual election.

Another UK MEP, for the South East region, Tory Nirj Deva became a third candidate.

The UK Conservatives are aligned with the relatively small European Conservatives and Reformists group which is independent of the other parties of the right, and usually puts up a candidate against the two main blocks.

It did not stop the Social Democrat becoming president but it badly dented his majority.

Three hundred and eighty seven voted for Martin Schultz; 142 backed Nirj Deva.

With 141 Diana Wallis polled far more than most observers expected.

'Open debate'

"It was about challenging the existing status quo among the leadership of the main political groups in the European Parliament," she said after the election.

"I did not achieve these particular goals, but I did achieve a more open debate about them."

Martin Schultz took up his office straight after the vote and will hold it until the next elections for MEPs due in 2014.

Meanwhile Diana Wallis will be putting back on her yellow T-shirt and resuming normal service as a Liberal Democrat MEP.