By Martin Banks - 8th July 2009
There is no doubt that he faced a very heavy defeat had he continued and that would have been embarrassing both for himself and our group
Despite renouncing my plans for the presidency I will continue to argue for a stronger and more effective institution
I understand the ALDE group have been offered an important position on a new temporary committee on the economic crisis. If that is the case, Watson's decision is purely political and quite understandable
Graham Watson has come under fire from his own party for pulling out of the race to become the next president of the European parliament.
Watson's shock decision on Wednesday took many by surprise and means that parliament's two biggest groups will share the presidency for the next five years.
It is expected that Jerzy Buzek and Socialist group leader Martin Schulz will share the post, with Buzek opting for the first two and a half year stint.
However, members of his ALDE group were critical and raised doubts about his decision to stand in the first place.
Belgian Liberal Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroek, president of the pan-European ELDR party, said that Watson faced an "embarrassingly heavy defeat" if he had continued in the contest.
She told this website, "I am glad he has pulled out for his own sake and that of the group.
"There is no doubt that he faced a very heavy defeat had he continued and that would have been embarrassing both for himself and our group."
She also questioned whether Watson had adopted the "right strategy" in his short-lived presidency campaign, saying, "I think he really should have launched it much earlier, maybe as soon as last summer. Had he done so he might have had a better chance but, in the end, the numbers just did not add up."
Another ALDE member, who declined to be named, said, "This is all very, very embarrassing. You really would have thought Graham might have stayed in the race, whatever the likely outcome."
On Monday, Watson told this website he was "optimistic" about his chances and said there was "everything to play for."
ALDE have declined to be drawn on speculation that, as a "trade-off" for withdrawing from the race, Watson was told that the ALDE group will be offered the chairmanship of a newly-created temporary parliamentary committee on the economic crisis.
Watson's decision left organisers of a supposed head-to-head debate between the presidential candidates in a quandary.
The debate was supposed to feature Buzek and Watson, the two main candidates, and rumours circulated in parliament that it had been cancelled after Watson's decision to withdraw.
In the event, it went ahead with Buzek, a former prime minister of Poland, setting out his "programme" for the coming two and a half years.
Also on the panel were Alex Alvaro, a German ALDE MEP and member of the campaign for parliamentary reform, outgoing president Hans-Gert Pöttering, and GUE candidate Eva-Britt Svensson.
Pöttering said the post was particularly "demanding" and that he had every confidence in Buzek's ability. Apart from Watson, another noticeable absentee was Martin Schulz, whose spokesman told this website that he was "too busy" to take part.
One EU insider said, "The whole thing had descended into complete and utter farce. No-one knows what is going on and how you can have a debate with, effectively, only one of the candidates is beyond me."
A similar debate, organised by Europarl TV, was supposed to take place in parliament on Wednesday evening but, in light of Watson's decision, it was unclear if this would still go ahead.
It is thought the organisers, a leading Brussels-based public relations company, drafted in Pottering as a speaker only at the last minute.
In a statement, Watson, who led the ALDE group for seven years, said he had pulled out to give Buzek a "clear mandate" from the assembly's three main groups
He said, "Parliament is more divided than ever, with no stable majority possible. That is why I am withdrawing from the race in support of a three-party agreement to save the EU.
"Despite renouncing my plans for the presidency I will continue to argue for a stronger and more effective institution."
Support for Watson came from Josep Borrell, a former president, who said, "I understand his decision. It is perfectly reasonable."
His comments were echoed by Mario Mauro, the Italian EPP member who himself withdrew his presidential candidacy earlier this week.
"I understand the ALDE group have been offered an important position on a new temporary committee on the economic crisis. If that is the case, Watson's decision is purely political and quite understandable," said Mauro.