Battle for the four EU presidencies kicks off

The starting pistol has sounded in the race to occupy the EU’s top jobs, which are all up for grabs next year.
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

07 Sep 2018

Presidencies will become vacant in 2019 for the four most significant institutions - the European Commission, Council, Parliament and European Central Bank (ECB).

Other top posts that will also become available are the EU’s foreign affairs chief and Secretary General of Nato.

At present, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini is the only woman to occupy a top post, and there are growing demands that there should be a better gender balance when the new jobs are allocated.

First out of the blocks this week was Manfred Weber, Parliament’s EPP group leader, who has formally declared himself a candidate to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President.

Weber is said to have the crucial backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but is still seen as relatively inexperienced for such a position and could still face stiff competition from the likes of former Finnish Prime Minister and MEP Alexander Stubb and Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator.

Speaking on Wednesday, Weber explained his reasons for putting himself forward as the so-called Spitzenkandidat in next year’s elections.

He said, “I see myself first of all as a representative of the people .I am elected as a member of the European Parliament. I am elected, and I am proud to be a parliamentarian. And I want to re-establish the bond between the citizens and the European Union.”

Soon afterwards, Merkel said, “I welcome this candidacy. I support Manfred Weber’s candidacy.”

On Friday, an EPP spokesperson told this website, “So far the only candidate that has declared himself to run for the European Commission is Manfred Weber. The rest of the names in the press are speculation, whether they are men or women.”

Of all the names being bandied about, few are women and this has fuelled demands for more female candidates for the various posts.

A woman has never been President of the ECB, Council or Commission and there have only ever been two female presidents of Parliament, Simone Veil in 1979 (first president of the elected Parliament) and Nicole Fontaine in 1999, both French.

Many fear that there will be a carve up of the top jobs between just two member states, France and Germany. Jens Weidmann, Bundesbank President, is being tipped to take over the helm at the ECB but others oppose this, not least because Germans already hold two of the top four EU civil service posts in the Commission and Parliament.

As speculation mounts, The Parliament Magazine canvassed opinion from MEPs and others, in particular on the need for gender balance at the top of the EU hierarchy.

They include SNP MEP Alyn Smith who said, “Having done more than most to fight euroscepticism in Scotland I'm sceptical of the whole Spitzenkandidat process because I do not think it reflects reality EU citizens expect of us and instead reflects an impression they are sceptical of, of middle aged men engaged in self-serving stich ups in far off rooms they have never heard of.  It allows those who would crash the whole thing to undermine the process.

“The idea that there should be a slate of candidates for different roles in different institutions, with different groups or interests trading positions with each other for four entirely different roles does not ring true to me.”

German Socialist Jo Leinen, meanwhile, added, “I fully support the Spitzenkandidat process as I think it is the best one to select the best candidate.”

Further comment came from UK S&D group MEP Julie Ward who said, “Women’s representation at the highest level of European politics is crucially lacking. I am proud to have Federica Mogherini, a strong Socialist woman, as the EU’s foreign affairs leader. She is ideally suited to be the Socialists and Democrat’s Spitzenkandidat in 2019.

“There are many excellent women who are potential candidates, working at the highest level in member state governments such as Sweden's feminist minister of foreign affairs, Margot Wallström.

“It is important to include more diversity in the electoral race. The key institutions need to reflect the Europe of today and that means being less white, less male, and more inclusive.” 

Her colleague Richard Corbett said, “Yes, a better gender balance is highly desirable.”

He said the next Commission President “will depend on who the political parties put forward - last time, only the Greens put forward a female candidate - and on parliamentary election results.”

Elsewhere, ECR group co-Chair Syed Kamall said, “It's clear that there needs to be more diversity within the EU’s institutions and that should start at the very top. While it’s certainly important to back female candidates for these high offices we need to do the same for people from different ethnic backgrounds who are incredibly under-represented in the EU's institutions.”

Kamall added, “In 2014 I became the first ethnic minority MEP to lead a political group in the European Parliament and I hope I’m not the last to hold a senior post."

“The so called ‘four EU presidents’ shouldn't just be a carve up by France and Germany of which offices they want with other countries scrapping over the remaining posts - some people seem to forget the EU is made up of more than just two countries.”

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