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Informal European Council meeting kicks-off the process to agree on new leaders of the EU top jobs

Yesterday, 28 May, EU leaders gathered in Brussels for an informal summit following the European Parliamentary elections. Under the first agenda item, the state of play of the populist parties was discussed among the Heads of States. Despite the loss of votes for the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social Democrats (S&D) the electoral gains of the anti-EU parties remained relatively limited. In the new European Parliament, pro-European parties will be able to keep their majority. Furthermore, centrist parties, such as the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) and the Greens won quite some seats. President of the European Council Donald Tusk argued that Brexit helped as a “vaccine” against the hard-liner slogans of the Eurosceptic parties. Tusk additionally said that even the most anti-EU parties had to change their rhetoric from abandoning the EU to reform the EU, which, according to him, is a positive development.

However, the most important topic of yesterday’s summit was not about Brexit, but about the future of the European Union and the future European top jobs. The European leaders decided not to discuss names of individual candidates but mandated Tusk to look for a new President of the European Commission through engaging in a dialogue with both the European Parliament and the Member States. Tusk hopes to present a candidate Commission President by the June European Council meeting (20-21 June), supported by both European leaders and the European Parliament. Factors that play a role for the top job are experience, geographical distribution, power distribution between the big and small countries, demography, political party affiliation and gender balance. As only the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is now a woman, it will be interesting to see whether the future top jobs will effectively be held by women. This could of course help the ambition of Margrethe Vestager as next President of the European Commission.

Other candidates in the race are the Spitzenkandidaten of the European political parties. The Party of European Socialists (PES) will push for the candidacy of Frans Timmermans, as he has the best profile and the most executive experience. On the other hand, the EPP is still the biggest party in the European Parliament, but EPP Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber lacks executive experience, both at national and at EU level, which seems a prerequisite to hold the office of Commission President. Therefore, current Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, also EPP, could be a compromise candidate if Germany accepts a French instead of a German candidate.

The stakes are high because in addition to the position of Commission President (currently Jean-Claude Juncker), also a new President of the European Council, a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (currently Federica Mogherini), a new Parliament President (currently Antonio Tajani) and a new President of the European Central Bank (currently Mario Draghi) will have to be elected. According to EU diplomats, Tusk will eventually draw up a list of one candidate for each of the four posts. A separate procedure for the presidency of the European Central Bank will be followed.