euractiv.com reports that:
The European Parliament is expected to elect its President on 17 January, following the decision of incumbent President Martin Schulz to opt for a career in German politics.
Unlike previous occasions, there is no agreement between the EPP [Conservatives and nationalists, roughly speaking] and the S&D [socialists and social democrats] to support a common candidate. A total of eight candidates are running, representing all political groups.
Eight may be standing, but there are only three serious candidates. The liberal ALDE is represented by veteran Guy Verhofstadt, but euractiv feels that ALDE does not have enough votes to threaten the two front-runners from the largest blocs. From a cursory glance, Antonio Tajani appears to be a Thatcherite friend of big business while Gianni Pitella's record suggests a love of super-state socialism.
There might have been more support for Verhofstadt if Bepe Grillo's fellow 5 Star members had been quite as liberal as their leader. They had split from the EFDD whose other major constituent was UKIP (thus cutting a source of funding for UKIP at a stroke). However, joining a liberal group was too much for the more nationalistic and reactionary 5 Star members whose extreme statements caused ALDE to vote against the affiliation.
The president of the EP is not a chief executive but more of a presiding officer, as in the Senedd. However, he (and it is practically certain to be a man again this year) is the public and international face of the parliament in addition to his control over parliamentary business, so his importance is more than just ceremonial.