The president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy is to convene an exceptional summit just two days after the EU election polls close, in a move that puts heads of states back in the driver’s seat to choose the next president of the European Commission. 

EU heads of state and government will gather over dinner on 27 May for a first discussion on the top positions in the next Commission, Van Rompuy said in an interview with the Belgian newspaper Le Soir published on Thursday (30 January).

Van Rompuy’s cabinet told EurActiv that this would be an “informal meeting”, at which EU leaders would discuss the results of the European Parliament elections, that are being held across EU member states on 22-25 May.

“There is no agenda just yet,” said Van Rompuy’s spokesperson, adding the meeting was “not meant to make up lists of possible candidates" for top EU jobs.

"The president will discuss procedural issues for the post-election phase and EU leaders will discuss how to find a stable majority [in Council and Parliament] to agree on the next EU Commission president.”

EU heads of state will officially nominate their candidate for the Commission in a formal European Council on 26-27 June. This nominee needs to pass a simple majority vote in Parliament and EU leaders “must take into account” the result of the European Parliament elections, according to the Lisbon Treaty (Article 17.7).

Van Rompuy told Le Soir that “the president of the European Council has to verify if a candidate can get a majority in Parliament behind him. If Parliament comes forward with a candidate supported by a stable and credible majority – and not a wide mix of negative votes – that will be an extremely important element" to make a choice.

Institutional jokeying

Over the past few months, political parties have pushed forward single candidates in their election campaigns. Figureheads like Martin Schulz or Guy Verhofstadt serve as the parties’ designated candidates to succeed José Manuel Barroso at the European Commission.

In the wake of the EU elections, the different political parties in the European Parliament will meet informally to discuss the formation of factions or ‘groups’. Group leaders also hope to agree on one of the candidates that led the parties’ campaigns.

If parliamentarians agree on such a candidate, they could force the EU heads of states to nominate this person – or reject him or her, thus kicking off a tough and long negotiation that could last all summer.

Top jobs like the EU high representative for foreign and security policy, the president of the European Parliament, the Eurogroup president and even the NATO secretary-general positions are also up for grabs. A compromise is likely to be reached on these positions altogether, which hugely complicates the post-elections procedure.

Van Rompuy is set to play a central role in the post-election liaising between Parliament and European Council. He was tipped as ‘mediator’ for this task.