Race for next Commission president begins

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Jostling to replace José Manuel Barroso as Commission president in 2014 has begun as spokesmen for Commission Vice President Viviane Reding and Parliament President Martin Schulz refused to scotch reports of their candidacies.

Reliable Commission sources told EurActiv that Reding – the Commission vice president for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship – has “begun campaigning”.

Her spokesman Matthew Newman said: “People love to speculate. She is very happy with and focused on her current position and has a lot to do.” He did not deny the reports.

Other sources within the EU executive were less inhibited, making clear the basis on which a Reding campaign would be built.

“Her three terms as Commissioner mean that she has experience on her side, she has great contacts in the Parliament arising from her former role as an MEP," a well-placed supporter told EurActiv. "She is extensively engaged there. She is a fervent believer in Europe. It would be hard to find someone more pro-European than her.”

Base in Parliament

Reding, of Luxembourg, is believed to have established a strong support base in the Parliament, leading to speculation that she is a shoe-in to be the candidate of the European People’s Party.

Under the Lisbon Treaty the Commission president is supposed to reflect the colour of the Parliament, and the European elections in 2014 could be run with the political groups backing their own candidates, making a clear outcome appear as a strong endorsement for the challenger.

There have also been rumours amongst MEPs that the parliament president, Martin Schulz, a German, will bag the candidacy of the Socialist and Democrats.

Schulz’s spokesman Armin Machmer also did not deny the reports.

“The PES will put forward a candidate with a high public profile and European credentials when the time arrives," Machmer said. "Martin is three months into the presidency of the European Parliament. He focuses all his work, efforts and aspirations on the post that he has been elected to, that is representing the interest of the Parliament and its members.”

Piotr Maciej Kaczyński, the head of politics and institutions at the Centre for European Policy Studies, a think-tank, said: “The big question is whether the parties can get clear candidates. It will be as difficult to become a candidate as it will to become president. For that reason the political groups are examining the possibility of staging primary elections.”

Mario Monti, back in Brussels?

The nature of any battle between candidates also depends on what names emerge as likely candidates. There is speculation in Berlin that German Chancellor Angela Merkel considers Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti – himself a former commissioner – as a good candidate for Commission president.

Monti does not belong to one of the political groups, however, and such a candidate would entail a less political campaign.

Although Barroso will not step down until 2014, it is unsurprising that reports of jostling are emerging early.

The prospect of a change of Commissioners’ cabinets surrounding a new presidency – after Barroso’s full 10-year term – will trigger advance positioning by senior officials.

Early declarations of candidacy offer a degree of certainty and also indicate political courage. However, any candidate must bank on a fair degree of risk.

“A lot can happen in politics in two years. Luxembourg, France and Germany all have elections in the interim,” the Reding supporter said.

Front-runners have not usually met with success in the past, and the final decision-making process rests with the leadership of the member states.

Timeline: 
  • 2014: New Commission president will be appointed by Council, and elected by Parliament
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