EU’s 'Game of thrones' kicks off over top political posts

Written by Martin Banks and Brian Johnson on 29 May 2019 in News
News

European Council President Donald Tusk warns European Parliament that there can be no ‘automaticity’ on selection of next European Commission President.

Photo Credit: European Council Newsroom


EU leaders held an informal meeting on Tuesday in Brussels to discuss the selection of candidates for the EU’s future top jobs, including the commission presidency.

European council president Donald Tusk, whose own job is now among those up for grabs, spoke after the summit on the appointments and lead candidates reiterating the position of EU governments that despite the popularity in the European Parliament for the Spizenkandidaten process the choice of Commission president is ultimately the prerogative of EU member states.

“The discussion confirmed the agreement reached by the leaders in February last year, that the European Council will exercise its role when electing the Commission president, meaning – in accordance with the treaties – that there can be no automaticity.”


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“At the same time, no-one can be excluded: being a lead candidate is not a disqualification, on the contrary, it may increase their chances. The treaty is clear: the European Council should propose, and the European Parliament should elect. Therefore, the future President of the Commission must have the support of both a qualified majority in the European Council and a majority of the MEPs.”

Tusk added, “We also discussed balances. That is the need to reflect the diversity of the Union when it comes to geography, the size of countries, gender as well as political affiliation. This will be our genuine aspiration. But in the real world a perfect balance may be difficult to obtain.”

He said, “I will now engage in consultations with the European Parliament.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the she supports the centre-right European People’s Party’s (EPP) lead candidate Manfred Weber.

Despite the EPP losing a significant number of MEP seats in last week’s elections Weber has argued that because his group is still the strongest in the parliament, his name should be put forward to EU leaders as prime lead candidate.

However Weber has no executive experience having served primarily as an MEP. French President Emmanuel Macron, who is opposed to the Spizenkandidaten process, said any Commission president “needs to know what an executive is”, adding, “We need strong leaders with strong experience” and also “strong legitimacy.”

“The discussion confirmed the agreement reached by the leaders in February last year, that the European Council will exercise its role when electing the Commission president, meaning – in accordance with the treaties – that there can be no automaticity” European council president Donald Tusk

However, Margrethe Vestager, the lead candidate for the Europe’s Liberal grouping, of which Macron’s MEPs are expected to join in the European Parliament, is being touted as a potential compromise candidate, reflecting the sense of a political shift to the left in the parliament around the mainstream parties and the strong public demand for women to be better represented at the highest levels of the EU.

On Tuesday, Parliament issued a statement which insisted the Spitzenkandidaten process for selecting the next commission president must be respected arguing that parliament’s position must be taken into account in any final decision.

The statement said, “The Conference of Presidents that consists of the President of European Parliament and the chairmen of political groups, released a statement that stipulated, “the next Commission President has made her/his programme and personality known prior to the elections, and engaged in a European-wide campaign.”

However, Alberto Alemanno, a Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at the HEC international college in Paris, said parliament's insistence on the lead candidate system relies on a “faulty assumption”, saying, “The political centre of gravity of the new parliament resides elsewhere, far from the EPP and tilts towards the centre-left of the political spectrum.”

“That's where the new EU political balance lies and where the new Commission president can and should be found".

“The political centre of gravity of the new parliament resides elsewhere, far from the EPP and tilts towards the centre-left of the political spectrum. That's where the new EU political balance lies and where the new Commission president can and should be found" lberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at the HEC international college in Paris

Meanwhile, Senior UK MEP Richard Corbett has thrown his weight behind his Socialist colleague Frans Timmermans for the commission presidency.

On Wednesday, Corbett, who was re-elected in the European elections, told this website, “Timmermans is the outstanding candidate in terms of competence and communication skills. He is also the most likely to build the broad political support needed to secure the necessary  parliamentary majority”.

Another name gaining traction for the commission’s top job is former EU commissioner Kristalina Georgieva. She has been CEO of the World Bank since January 2017 but is not one of the so-called lead candidates put forward by the EU’s main political groups ahead of the European elections.

However, according to David Harley, a former European Parliament secretary general, the Bulgarian “has growing support” for the position.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

Brian Johnson is Managing Editor of The Parliament Magazine

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