Are we back to negotiating behind closed doors? The so-called “Spitzenkandidaten” process was supposed to help elect a successor to Jean-Commission President Claude Juncker out in the open, following a public campaign by all candidates. However, a question mark now hangs over the entire process, leading some to conclude we’re returning to political horsetrading in back rooms (though at least they’re no longer smoke-filled).
How did we get here? According to the European treaties, the EU Council has the right to propose (taking into account the results of the European Parliament elections) the next EU Commission President. Crucially, however, the European Parliament is given the right to veto their choice, in which case the EU Council must propose a different candidate within one month. Therefore, under the Spitzenkandidaten process first introduced ahead of the 2014 EU elections, Parliament had argued that the lead candidate of the party that received the most votes should become the new President of the European Commission.
Yet the candidate of the centre-right, Manfred Weber, whose European People’s Party topped the polls but failed to achieve an overall majority, has been unable to create a parliamentary majority beyond his own political group. This is hardly unprecedented in a parliamentary system, and would normally lead to fresh elections or lengthy coalition negotiations (in 2010, for example, Belgium infamously went 589 days without a government).
So, fresh elections or lengthy negotiations? Neither of these options seem likely or practical (particularly with a possible “no-deal” Brexit looming in October), hence the EU Council’s current struggle to get around the Spitzenkandidaten process. And “struggle” is the right word; at an EU summit on 20-21 June 2019, the European Council found themselves unable to agree a majority for any candidate, finally throwing in the towel and adjourning at 2 o’clock in the morning.
At this point, it looks like none of the Spitzenkandidaten can form a confirmatory majority in the European Parliament. Unless somebody backs down, then we are in for lengthy negotiations by default. It is possible that a majority can be formed by offering the Social Democrats, Liberals, and Greens choice positions in the new European Commission.
The Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been suggested as a compromise centre-right candidate. However, his appointment would essentially mean the parliament was handing the power to choose a Commission President back to the European Council. And, of course, Manfred Weber would need to be convinced to step aside (possibly under pressure from leaders or his own MEPs). This seems unlikely, given that Angela Merkel is still backing him and he was recently re-elected chair of the EPP. Nevertheless, stranger things have happened in politics recently.
Who will the next EU Commission President be? The next summit in Brussels is planned for June 30, so maybe we’ll know by then. Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
Image Credits: © European Union – European Council