Emily O’Reilly was in pole position to win another term as European ombudsman after a vote on Tuesday but fell short of the absolute majority needed to stop the contest going to a second round.
In a secret ballot among members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the Irish incumbent won 240 votes, followed by Estonian judge Julia Laffranque with 162 votes. Swedish former liberal MEP Cecilia Wikström came third with 73 votes, followed by Italy’s Giuseppe Fortunato with 67 and Nils Muižnieks of Latvia with 47.
As no candidate secured an absolute majority of 295 votes, the election goes to a second round on Wednesday. If no one wins an absolute majority once again, then the top two candidates will square off in a third ballot. In the event of a tie, the oldest candidate will be appointed, according to the rules of procedure.
The European ombudsman handles complaints of maladministration from citizens by conducting inquiries and making recommendations to EU institutions — although those recommendations are not binding. The ombudsman can also launch investigations on their own initiative.
Reacting to Tuesday’s ballot, O’Reilly said she is “humbled by the strong vote across group lines.”
“It reflects that Parliament wants an ombudsman with a broader vision of the role, open and modern, and engaged with European citizens. I hope my record of achievements and my experience will count in the final vote tomorrow,” she declared.
Laffranque said she is “feeling good, feeling convinced about tomorrow’s vote.” She said that vote will “decide the future of the office and it is very important to have citizens at the center of all of its actions, and that’s what I’ll do.”
The campaign has centered around O’Reilly’s record and her approach to the role, making it something of a political proxy war among the Parliament’s political groups.
While the vote is secret, the Socialists and Democrats on the Parliament’s petitions committee and the Greens/EFA group in the Parliament have endorsed O’Reilly as their top candidate. The Parliament’s largest group, the European People’s Party (EPP), said its members could vote freely in the first round but will discuss their strategy for the next vote in a group meeting Tuesday evening.
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