PARIS (Reuters) - A former Romanian prime minister was on Wednesday elected the first leader of Renew Europe, the new centrist force that includes French President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique en Marche party, inside the European Parliament.
The way opened up for Dacian Ciolos after Macron's hand-picked candidate, his former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, pulled out of the race following a series of gaffes and a lacklustre European election campaign.
Ciolos, 49, a former EU agriculture commissioner, was picked in a secret ballot by Renew Europe lawmakers in Brussels, defeating Dutch liberal democrat Sophie in't Veld. The liberal grouping was known as ALDE before Macron's lawmakers joined.
"The presidency of the Renew Europe group represents only a step in the political edifice that we have envisioned for the past two years. It is an important step, but this is just the beginning of our project," Ciolos tweeted.
Loiseau's withdrawal from the contest was a blow to Macron as he seeks to bolster French influence in the parliament. Renew Europe will be the third-biggest grouping in the 751-seat parliament and with neither the mainstream conservative nor social democrat parties holding a majority, the new liberal grouping says it can be a kingmaker in EU policymaking.
Ciolos, who headed a caretaker technocratic government from 2015-2016, formed a new political party in late 2018, pitching himself as a pro-European progressive who is tough on corruption. He is married to a Frenchwoman and speaks fluent French.
MEPs from Macron's party supported Ciolos' candidacy, Stephane Sejourne, head of LREM in the European Parliament said.
"His leadership will serve our project," Sejourne told Reuters. "He is a staunch defender of the Common Agriculture Policy, concerned about environmental standards. He also wants to make Europe a respected power globally."
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Catherine Evans)