Where now for the Spitzenkandidaten process after EUCO? Keep calm

topcandidates-junckercolourSo the European Council last night did not back Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President, instead inviting Herman Van Rompuy to consult about who should become Commission President between now and the end of June. He should, to use Merkel’s words, look at a “somewhat broader tableau of suitable persons”. All this has then been framed as a blow to both Juncker and indeed the Spitzenkandidat process – see news stories from EUObserver and the FT for example. Hannes Swoboda of the S&D Group in the European Parliament also tweeted that it was absurd that even his group in the EP was ready to back Juncker, but the EPP in the European Council was not.

At one level the outcome is disappointing – there was the opportunity yesterday to demonstrate that EU institutions can take quick decisions. There was a Qualified Majority for Juncker if the EPP had pushed it. But attempts to keep some leaders happy – Cameron to a certain extent – mean the period for Van Rompuy to consult. There’s also the attempt for the European Council to save some face, and to not let the European Parliament dictate how the process should run, although the accusation that the process is inefficient and slow lies with them – the Heads of State and Government now.

Yet despite all of this, Juncker still is actually the front runner and may still end up as Commission President. The solid backing he has received from people like Enda Kenny and Peter Altmaier (tweet), not least to respect the integrity of the process within the EPP and hence within the European Parliament, means it is going to be hard to find a candidate who commands wider support.

This is always the important question to pose: yes, Juncker may not be backed by Orbán or Cameron, but what other alternative candidate is going to actually, after Van Rompuy’s consultations, actually command wider support? And any such candidate is going to have to command the support of the European Parliament, who were quick to back Juncker. Plus any viable candidate – Katainen, Kenny, Lagarde, Lamy – are going to be uneasy about putting themselves forward, knowing the still wide basis of support for Juncker.

So the conclusion, I think, is to let the post-EUCO gossip die down, and keep calm. This Spitzenkandidat process may yet work.

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3 comments

  1. John Heaven

    I must admit, it was only after the election that I realised that we’d been asked to elect the head of the Commission. I’d heard about Spitzenkandidaten etc., but didn’t pay that much attention before. I was speaking to my hairdresser yesterday and I don’t think he realised either, despite having gone to vote. I think this is groundbreaking and a huge leap forward in reducing the democratic deficit, but it will take a couple of elections for people to understand what’s going on. So I hope they do persevere, and having Juncker as head of Commission would be in my opinion a price worth paying (although again I must admit, I don’t know a great deal about him).

    I can’t imagine Merkel et. al will be able to get away with blocking Juncker, or at least giving him a crack of the whip at building a coalition. It would play straight into the hands of the EU-haters – added to the stories of repeated referenda and such. This is just conjecture on my part, but I presume Merkel is just trying to gather bargaining chips so she can say “oh all right then, so long as X gets position Y.”

  2. Brusselsblogger

    In my view the question is more on how to fill the other posts (and keep some of those happy that are unhappy with Juncker). This is what takes time.

    Related to this: do you see a possibility for Schulz to become German Commissioner within a Juncker-led European Commission?

  3. Mark Henderson

    Might be worth adding a line of explanation on who Altmaier is and who he might be speaking for.
    Just to make this otherwise insightful post, more accessible.