Who gets what?: From EP elections to business of the EU top jobs

What kind of impact the results of the EP elections might have on a selection process of the next President of the European Commission and other EU top jobs? Read few comments.

Katjana Gattermann, Assistant Professor Political Communication & Journalism, Amsterdam Centre for Contemporary European Studies (ACCESS EUROPE), University of Amsterdam

My answer is that the results show that the two biggest groups (the EPP and S&D) do not form a majority together anymore. In the past, such “grand coalition” inside Parliament has allowed for horse trading as regards top jobs, including that of the President of the European Parliament. However, any candidate for Commission President will now need support from other, smaller groups.

So, it remains to be seen what will happen next. In Germany, some commentators see Manfred Weber as the next Commission President. And Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (the leader of the CDU) has expressed her support for Weber last night. However, on the other side, we have Macron who is not in favour of the process.

In the Council, a reinforced qualified majority is required for the nomination of the Commission President (that is 72% of the member states, representing at least 65% of the EU population). So, in my view the negotiations will take a while.

In my view, it will be hard for the Council to nominate anyone who was not part of the Spitzenkandidaten process beforehand (e.g., Barnier), as the Parliament will likely argue that it has gained legitimacy following the higher turnout figures in many countries and thus likely insist to select someone who campaigned in the elections beforehand.

That said, the EP may be OK with accepting someone else than Weber for Commission President if he or she can find support in the EP. Timmermans and Vestager, for instance, have already given the impression prior to the elections that they are open to forming broader coalitions. We also have to bear in mind that both Timmermans and Vestager have experience in the EU Commission; Weber has not.

Isabel Camisão, Assistant Professor, University of Coimbra

Now that we have the official results of the EP elections , the next step is the contest for the top EU positions (a sort of “game of thrones” as it is being called). Even though some results are still provisional, it is already clear that the new EP will be more fragmented, meaning that the art of negotiation and the ability to build coalitions will be more important than ever. Both EPP and S&D groups managed to maintain their position as respectively the first and the second larger group of the EP. However, in this legislature their seats combined are not enough to achieve an absolute majority of votes (currently 376 in 751). Thus, two other groups become very relevant players: ALDE which is now the third group of the EP (meaning that their lead candidate Margrethe Vestagercould be a contender); but also the Greens which have enough seats (70) to make them a relevant partner to form a majority. For obvious reasons, I’m leaving out of the equation far-right and Eurosceptic groups. Although unfortunately they have managed to be successful in some EU countries (therefore managing to strengthen their position in the EP) it is not a given fact that they will be able to work together. Also, their record, although a serious warning for the ones who believe in an united European project, was not as good (for them) as the more pessimistic projections had anticipated.

Returning to the core of your question, the attention is now turned to the post of the President of the European Commission. The Treaty of the EU explicitly sates that the results of the EP Elections should be taking into consideration (article 17 n7). This sentence along with the adopted method of the spitzenkandidaten would point to the EPP group lead candidate Manfred Weber as the front-runner. This is what happened with the election of Jean-Claude Juncker. Also, if we look at the current results the differential between the EPP and the S&D groups in terms of seats is roughly the same of the previous legislature. That being said, both groups lost power (in absolute and relative terms) meaning that other groups, such as ALDE might want to have a say in the decision on the top EU jobs.  Besides, the treaty refers that “appropriate consultations” must be held, which opens the door to negotiations between the major groups of the EPP. There are also some rumours regarding Michel Barnier being a possible “compromise candidate” in the event that no agreement regarding the actual lead candidates is reached (other non-official names floating in some press are Christine Lagarde and Mark Rutte). The problem here is that the EP had clearly stated that it might reject a candidate that has not chosen through the spitzenkandidaten method. In the end, the process will also greatly depend on the European leaders and on their influence within their own European political families. For instance, it is well known that the Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, is an influential player within the European Socialist Party and he explicitly stated yesterday that he will fight for the election of Frans Timmermans as President of the Commission (Costa himself was one of the names aired in the press as a contender to the Presidency of the European Council, even though he quickly dismissed the idea, at least domestically). Again, in this type of negotiations it is important to consider that we’ll always have trade-offs: in a game of power one could be willing to compromise in one post providing that manages to get the preferred candidate nominated to the other.

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