EU heads of state and government are meeting tonight to discuss the results of the European Parliament elections. Leaders will be digesting the results of the vote, including increasing support for Eurosceptic and anti-establishment parties, at an “informal dinner” in Brussels. The agenda, however, will likely be dominated by wrangling over who is to be the next President of the European Commission.
Under new rules introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon, EU leaders must “take into account” the result of the European elections when deciding who to nominate as Commission President. The European Council will decide upon a candidate by a (qualified majority) vote after first consulting with representatives of the European Parliament.
Once a candidate has been officially proposed by EU heads of state and government, the European Parliament then votes to either confirm or reject the nomination. Should the Council’s candidate not obtain the required majority in the Parliament, the Council will then be forced to propose a different candidate within one month. This veto potentially gives the European Parliament a powerful voice in negotiations over who will be appointed Commission chief.
We’ve put together an infographic outlining the expected process over the coming weeks. If everything proceeds smoothly, the next commission could be inaugurated in November (the mandate of the current commission ends on 31 October). Traditionally, however, negotiations have dragged on later than that, and it could be early 2015 before the new commission begins its work.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the EPP candidate for EU Commission President, has already claimed victory. Speaking at a press conference just before midnight on Sunday, Juncker said: “As we did win these elections, I feel fully entitled to become the next European President of the commission.”
However, he also admitted that his appointment would not be automatic:
I think it’s clear that we can assume that the lead candidate from the winning party will be President of the Commission. But we know that not only the voters have the right to decide who will become the Commission President, also the European Council and the European Parliament have a serious role to play… I will be ensuring that there is a majority and there will be no getting around the EPP and it will be important for us to have good co-operation. No-one should try to come up with a different majority.
Juncker added that he had spoken to Berlin by phone, and during his campaign he had the backing (albeit somewhat tepid) of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. However, at least one EPP prime minister – Hungary’s Viktor Orbán – has said he will not support Mr Juncker as Commission President, and British Prime Minister David Cameron (though not part of the EPP group) is actively campaigning for a “less federalist” candidate.
It’s also not immediately clear whether Mr Juncker will have the unopposed backing of the European Parliament. Both the social democrat candidate, Martin Schulz, and the liberal candidate, Guy Verhofstadt, have so far declined to publicly support Mr Juncker and are calling for negotiations.
Will Jean-Claude Juncker be the next President of the European Commission? Or will EU leaders put forward a different candidate – such as Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister? And what would that mean for EU democracy? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.