The chosen one

Who will be the next President of the European Commission?

With the 2014 European elections rapidly approaching, the speculation over who will occupy the EU’s top positions: President of the EU Council, President of the European Commission and the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, also increases.

Amid the rumours a clear fact has been established on 6 November, with the announcement of the Party of European Socialists (PES) that confirmed Mr Martin Schulz as ‘candidate designate’ for Commission President.
Currently acting as President of the European Parliament, Mr Schultz is supported by 19 of the 31 full member parties of the PES.

Yet Mr Schulz’s nomination is already creating waves. On 4 November, the British ‘Guardian Newspaper’ reported that British PM, Mr David Cameron is preparing to launch a campaign to block Mr Schulz from becoming the next Commission President.

The article states that Mr Cameron fears that Mr Schulz’s appointment could complicate his “plans to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership by the end of 2017. While Mr Cameron has yet to name an alternative candidate, a cabinet source indicates that he would support Irish PM, Enda Kenny.

Choosing the next Commission President is slightly similar to choosing a Pope.

Officially, the selection process is governed by article 17.7 of the Treaty on European Union. Accordingly, the European Council votes on a nominee for the post by a qualified majority, taking into consideration the latest European elections.
Then the proposal moves to the European Parliament, who has to approve or veto the Council’s appointment by an absolute majority.

In reality the process is not as simple, as political battles and coalitions building in the Council are parts of the selection process. That is particularly true when taking into consideration the fact that every Member State has the right to veto a candidate.

Looking at the selection process of past Presidents illustrates that:

  • The European Parliament was very critical to the nomination of the current President, Jose Manual Barroso, which was considered to take place behind closed doors.
  • Jacques Delors, a French Socialist, was chosen following a Franco-British disagreement over Claude Cheysson (also French Socialist).
  • Romano Prodi, an Italian Christian Democrat, was backed by a coalition of thirteen states against the Franco-German preference for Guy Verhofstadt (Belgian Liberal).

While it is too early to assess Mr Schulz’s chances, few factors play on his behalf;
First, Mr Schulz was endorsed by the German Socialists (SPD) as the official candidate for the post. As I published in my Polish blog, one of the terms of negotiating a grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and the SPD involves Ms Merkel’s support to Mr Schulz’s candidacy.
Second, it would be astonishing if Germany weights its support on another, non-German candidate.

According to the EU Treaty, the identity of the next EU leaders must reflect the results of the EU elections. Based on this logic, Mr Schulz would have the post if the Socialists win a majority. Then again, he would be facing far more obstacles than Mr Cameron if the Eurosceptics are the grand winners…

Greetings from the European Parliament,

Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg

—-
Next steps:
November 2013 – January 2014: European Greens party’s open online primary in which two figureheads for campaign are elected
December 2013:: ALDE pre-summit meeting to discuss commission presidency candidate(s)
February 2014: PES congress electing the candidate and adopting a common campaign manifesto
March 2014: EPP (Centre-Right) Congress in Dublin
22-25 May 2014: European parliament elections in all 28 member states

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5 thoughts on “The chosen one

  1. Do individual member state governments still have a veto? I thought it had moved to QMV? Also, you need several hundred meps to be the largest group – notwithstanding the likely success of populists from syriza to ukip, front national to grillo, it is inconceivable that the largest group would be anything other than the epp or s&d.

    • Hello Andrew!
      Thank you for your comments. You are right on both matters.
      According to art 17.7 of the EU Treaty, which governs the election of the EC President, the European Council votes on a nominee for the post by a qualified majority.
      While this procedure eliminates the simple veto, in practice the Council always tries to achieve the broadest possible consensus.
      As I also mentioned in the post above, electing an EC president is a highly politicized process, many times governed by deals between leaders of the Member States. Based on this principle a candidate that is not supported by all the Member states is not likely to get the post.

      I also agree with you that it’s not very likely that the next EC President is representing one of the populist groups in 2014.
      However there is a real concern that these groups will significantly grow during the May 2014 elections, on the expenses of the traditional, pro-EU political groups, such as the EPP and the S&D. This trend – if proven true – will greatly influence the work of the next Parliament who will face some difficulties to maintain the work done on behalf, and for the EU citizens.
      Also, based on art 17.7 of the EU Treaty the Council, when nominating a President, must take into consideration the results of the European elections.
      While still a slim chance, if the populist parties will continue to significantly grow in 2019, there will be a struggle over the EC President post in 2019.

      • Thank you for your response. I think there will be two key outcomes of this election:

        First, will the EPP or the PES/S&D get more seats? If EPP win (and surely they are favourites), I expect Kenny or Tusk or whoever wins the EPP primary to be a shoe-in for commission president. It will be a considerably strengthened position as he could claim to be the first president elected by the people.

        If S&D win, I suspect it will be less straight forward. The EPP have a significant majority in the council, and you would expect the same for the commission nominees. Schulz does not fit the profile the council have for the commission president – a former head of government. If Schulz gets nominated anyway, I suspect he would be hamstrung by his commission and the conditions imposed by the council. If he fails and we get someone else from the S&D or even an EPP president, that could cause a real crisis of legitimacy – all the eurosceptics will say they are proved right!

        Are you feeling bold enough to make a prediction? How is the contest shaping up in Poland?

        The second key question is whether the EPP/S&D “grand coalition” lose their majority for the first time ever. I suspect they will, although the opposition will be fragmented. I can’t see Syriza, UKIP, the Front National and PVV being able to agree on much. The reduced ALDE contingent will presumably support the EPP/S&D so they will have a majority with the three groups.

        I suspect a strengthened “opposition” will make things interesting. I expect parliament will reject more than two commission nominees this time – possibly even a big post like the monetary affairs post. They might even manage to sack a commissioner mid term. Legislation will be harder to get through – who knows, it might even be better quality!

        What happens in 2009 will I suspect be moulded by the precedents set this year. Its just possible that a merged Green/EFA and left group could challenge for the top spot, but I personally doubt they could manage it, even if they manage an alliance. A brexit might also make this harder. As before, I couldn’t see a coherent unified challenge coming from the eurosceptic right.

      • This is high political speculation 🙂
        Basing myself on opinion surveys recently conducted, it looks like the EPP and S&D will remain the largest groups following the EU 2014 elections, though they are both expected to lose votes to the populist, Eurosceptic parties.
        Nevertheless, it is very unlikely these groups will be large enough to block a coalition of pro EU parties or to introduce Eurosceptic legislation. An alliance of the Eurosceptic groups (if they eventually manage to find enough common ground to work together) is only expected to make it harder on us to pass pro-EU legislation with a large majority.

        As for who will be the EC President, I hope it will be Martin Schulz, not only because he received the endorsement of the Socialists, but also because the smaller groups, the Greens and Liberals might prefer to lend their support to Mr Schulz over the EPP candidate.

      • I agree with this analysis. There is an interesting question about what will happen if the EPP ends up with more MEPs than the S&D but Schultz ends up with more MEPs supporting him after he has collected endorsements from the Left, Greens and Liberals. I suspect the Council, with a large EPP majority, would be keen to propose another EPP EC president and they could justify this in this scenario by pointing to the result and saying the EPP had more seats than the S&D. Personally I don’t think the European Parliament would have enough cohesion to reject an EPP candidate in this scenario. Although as I mentioned, the confirmation hearings for the individual commissioners could run into plenty of issues.

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