Back in the early summer of 2013 I wrote a detailed series of blog posts about the future President of the European Commission. There were posts about EPP, PES and other candidates. Overall those posts have stood up well over the last 6 months. But with the EP elections just over 4 months away, and with the new Commission to be decided shortly after, and with more and more jostling for top positions being covered by the newspapers (see FT earlier in January and FAZ today for example), it’s time to update the state of play.
Party of European Socialists (PES)
For the moment the PES position is clear: Martin Schulz is the top candidate, and if the PES wins the European elections they will seek to nominate him as Commission President. There were quite some problems with the transparency and democratic credentials of the process to select Schulz (as I analysed for Policy Network) but, for the coming months at least, Schulz’s position will not be challenged, formally at least, within the PES. He also was part of the negotiations to form the Große Koalition in Germany, and it seems Merkel can get on with him. Also as Derk Jan Eppink points out, Schulz can be strategic, has an instinct for power, has nothing to lose and only lacks the experience some other candidates bring.
For reasons I do not altogether understand – perhaps because she’s the only social democrat anyone’s heard of who’s not unpalatable? – the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt keeps on coming back. The UK Labour Party would prefer her, Kinnock’s daughter in law, to Schulz. After all someone who’s been a principle-free, reasonably unsuccessful Prime Minister of Denmark is better than an old fashioned German social democrat, right? I suppose the selfie helped.
Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Here I must admit I was wrong, for I could not previously foresee how the Liberals would possibly want Olli Rehn, the Economic & Monetary Affairs Commissioner, as a Commission President candidate. But it seems he is in pole position to be their leading candidate. This of course could well be because the other candidate is Guy Verhofstadt, and choosing between those is like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Anyway, Euractiv has an update on the state of play, and ALDE will decide which one to go for in a delegate vote from the member parties on 1st February.
As Dario Čepo and I have discussed on Twitter, Rehn could somehow slip between the PES and the EPP in the event of a very closely balanced electoral result. The prospect fills both Dario and I with dread – and we thought Barroso was bad!
Maybe because the Greens know they are not actually going to get the Commission President job they have actually designed the best process to select a top candidate. The #GreenPrimary is an online poll, open until 28th January, open to anyone (even non-Greens) to select their two top candidates. There are 4 candidates standing – Rebecca Harms, Ska Keller, Monica Frassoni and José Bové. I have no idea who the favourite is among the four.
Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA is the candidate. He’s going to bring some fire to debates in the next few months, but he has even less chance of becoming Commission President than a Green.
European People’s Party
The prominent political force in the EU for at least the last decade, and the party of the current Commission President Barroso, it is nevertheless the EPP’s process to choose a candidate that is leading to the most head-scratching in Brussels at the moment. The party is supposed to choose a candidate with a delegate vosting system at its Dublin Congress 7-8 March. Merkel, apparently with some backing from Van Rompuy, is not too keen on a close connection between the EP election result and the Commission President nomination, fearing it will
strengthen the Parliament cause inter-institutional conflicts (see the FT). This would only be a particular problem if the PES won the elections, yet the European Council remains dominated by EPP parties.
The challenge here too seems to be how to find a viable candidate. People like Michel Barnier (currently a Commissioner) and Jean Claude Juncker (former Luxembourg PM) have nothing to lose by putting their names forward. Viviane Reding also wants the job, but I think she’s about the only person who wants her to have it. Prime Ministers from the party such as Donald Tusk and Enda Kenny have distanced themselves from the role, not wanting to kill their national political careers by throwing their hats into the ring, only to then find another party wins the EP elections. Others like Jyrki Katainen and Christine Lagarde should not be fully ruled out either. Thankfully a third term for Barroso now seems totally out of the question though.
As the situation changes I will do my best to blog about it.
[UPDATE 15.1.2014, 1000]
I’ve been asked on Twitter about numerous candidates not mentioned in this blog entry – people like Valdis Dombrovskis, Dalia Grybauskaitė and Anders Fogh Rasmussen. This blog entry in no way excludes those people. If they are not mentioned it means I simply have heard no more about them that makes me change my views on them since the original blog entries on the subject of the EU’s top jobs. I was also asked about why there is no mention of the ECR in this blog entry – it’s because I see the future of the group in Brussels as being under some threat, as explained here.