German elections launch Schulz towards Commission presidency

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The German elections have propelled the firebrand social democrat Martin Schulz, the present European Parliament President, into pole position to be the Party of European Socialists candidate to succeed to José Manuel Barroso as Commission President, EurActiv has learned.

A possible ‘Grand Coalition’ agreement between the German social-democrats and the centre-right CDU/CSU would include the nomination of Schulz for German commissioner, a Social Democrat (SPD) German MEP told EurActiv.

“If we get a grand coalition, the SPD will want to have the next commissioner for Germany. That could be Martin Schulz if our political family finds a majority to select him as candidate for European Commission president,” MEP Jo Leinen told EurActiv.com in a phone interview yesterday (22 September) immediately after preliminary results were released.

The Party of European Socialists (PES) has been promoting the idea that the European political families select candidates for the job of the next European Commission president to “give a face” to the European elections in May 2014.

The Socialists decided in a November 2011 PES congress in Brussels that they would name a candidate for Commission president through internal primaries before January 2014 in each of the national member parties and organisations. 

Different selection procedures

For the European People’s Party (EPP), of which Barroso is a vice president, the situation is less clear. Another EPP vice, Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who is not himself a candidate, openly criticised the idea of holding direct elections for the EU's top jobs.

The Liberal ALDE political party said it would discuss candidates at the party’s pre-summit meeting at the margins of the 19-20 December European Council, and that if more than two emerged, they would hold a vote in spring.

The Green party announced that they would elect two candidates through primaries for the EU elections, further confusing the picture.

The 2014 elections - the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty - will allow the Parliament to elect the president of the Commission on the basis of a proposal by the European Council taking into account the results of the European elections (see Article 17.7 of the Treaty on European Union). The Lisbon Treaty however says nothing about the direct election of the European Commission president.

The possible nomination of Martin Schulz as German commissioner in an eventual coalition agreement could solve some problems, but create others.

If the PES nominated Schulz for Commission president, such an agreement could prevent the German chancellor from killing the initiative by nominating another person to be the next German commissioner.

However the early nomination of Schulz in the capacity of “Commission-President-in-waiting” could stoke antagonism amongst centre-left forces in the EU, who may consider other candidates.

Another possible downside is that Schulz would be less credible in his current role as Parliament president, if he were already marked out as the candidate of the EU’s centre-left.

If Angela Merkel, who will soon be sworn in for a third mandate as German chancellor, green lights Schulz’s nomination as commissioner, it is likely that the EPP would respond with a nominated candidate.

Brian Synott, a PES spokesperson, said that centre-left candidacies for the job of Commission president would be put forward from 1 to 21 October. A PES congress in February will decide on one candidate, while in the meantime the candidates would travel across Europe to campaign and present themselves to their sister parties.

Schulz’s office declined to comment if a nomination would not require his resignation as European Parliament president.

Timeline: 
  • 22-25 May 2014: European elections to be held in 28 member states
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