Schulz, Juncker tell Van Rompuy ‘the old days are over’

Competitors for the European Commission presidency.

The two lead candidates in the race for the European elections have reacted vigorously to statements by Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who scorned the parties’ attempt to put forward candidates for the European Commission's presidency.

Martin Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker have denounced Van Rompuy's statements over the weekend, saying he cannot circumvent voter choice, and that the new Commission President will need a firm majority in the next Parliament.

According to Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg Prime Minister campaigning for the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), “the democratic toothpaste is out of the tube with the election of a lead candidate”.

“The old days, when a Commission president was elected by diplomats in backrooms are finally over,” he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Earlier, Van Rompuy had scorned the parties’ attempts to put forward a lead candidate for the European elections in a bid to win the top seat at the Commission. "The difference between the Parliament and those who really decide is very clear to citizens," the Belgian said.

The next president of the EU executive will be nominated by EU leaders, but the European Parliament will elect him or her through a vote, a novelty brought about by the Lisbon Treaty (article 17.7, TEU).

Over the past months, Van Rompuy has consistently objected to the procedure, in what is a surprisingly militant position for an otherwise abiding diplomat.

Martin Schulz, the candidate for the Socialists and Democrats, told the Süddeutsche that Mr Van Rompuy’s declarations were the expression of his "own opinion, based on his interpretation, to fit his job description. Many in the European Council see this issue [of a common candidate] differently. Most importantly, the European voters see this differently.”

“We were disappointed to hear this message from Mr Van Rompuy," said Julian Priestley, the former secretary general of the European Parliament who leads Schulz’ campaign. "It seems he continues to deny the will of Europe’s voters and dismiss the democratic legitimacy of the upcoming elections,” Priestley told EurActiv.

The five candidates for the job also include the Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt, the Greens’ Franco-German duo José Bové and Ska Keller, and the far-left Greek candidate Alexis Tsipras. All are currently touring EU member states, supporting national parties in their bid to get voters to the polls on 22-25 May.

“Mr Schulz and I are touring the whole of Europe, to make clear the stakes of the elections," Juncker stressed, saying "Every citizen can co-decide the direction of Europe for the next five years."

European parties have an informal agreement that the party winning the most seats can put forward its candidate for the EU Executive.

Latest polls put the EPP in the lead with 222 projected seats, followed by the socialists with 209 seats. The liberal ALDE party is credited with around 60 seats, the far-left GUE-NGL around 50 seats and the Greens and Conservatives with about 40 seats each.

Crunch time

Between 22 and 25 May, European citizens will elect a new European Parliament, made up of 751 members. For the EU executive however the 27th May will be the decisive date, with EU heads of states meeting in Brussels to designate the new Commission President.

In Parliament, the designated Commission chief will need the backing of at least 376 MEPs in order to get "elected". Most likely, a grand coalition will support the winning candidate - whether Martin Schulz, Jean-Claude Juncker or someone else. A coalition of socialists, liberals, greens and the far-left could provide Schulz with a majority but polling shows that this is highly unlikely.

However, political parties have always kept the door open for coalitions to support a candidate. “We will then work to build the coalition which will have the necessary majority to elect Martin Schulz and to put the EU on a new path, strengthened by this new democratic underpinning,” Priestley said.

Ultimately, all will depend on the endorsements of the European Parliament and the 28 EU heads of states. So what will happen on 27 May?

  • Morning: The European Parliament’s conference of presidents meets in Brussels, in an extraordinary session. The meeting will include lead candidates Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt, as well as political heavyweights like Joseph Daul (EPP) and Rebecca Harms (Greens).
  • Afternoon: Traditionally, the pan-European parties meet up in pre-election summits of their own member parties. These pre-election summits are attended by heads of state – a crucial moment for the parties’ leadership and the candidates’ entourage to get an endorsement on a potential deal in Parliament.
  • Evening: The European heads of state are gathered by the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, for an “informal dinner” to discuss the elections. Key question: will the EU leaders stand by the process of ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ or not?

If all goes according to plan, political parties will first have to come to an agreement and gather the necessary votes in Parliament. Then, the heads of states will give their blessing to the candidate.

But 'dark-horse candidates' could also emerge at the last minute if none of the leading ones find the assent of EU leaders. These might include the managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde (centre-right) or the former president of the World Trade Organisation, Pascal Lamy (Socialist).

Those defending the single candidate procedure do not want to believe in such a scenario. “Already 27 out of the 28 Heads of Government have endorsed this system,” Priestley said. “It would be a travesty if they went back on their commitments in June.”

In case a 'dark horse' candidate emerges, it could bring the institutions into a deadlock and put Van Rompuy head-to-head once more with the pan-European parties.

  • 22-25 May: European elections to be held in all 28 member countries
  • 27 May: Conference of presidents of the European Parliament meets in an extraordinary meeting
  • 27 May: Parties hold pre-summit meetings; heads of state join their parties to discuss the elections
  • 27 May: EU leaders meet for extraordinary summit to take stock of the elections results


Gerry's picture

It would be good if van Rompuy would not only not vent his negativity towards the democratic process but that he were to positively endorse and encourage it. I am so sick of lame old EUSSR jokes I could just about spit at it. Van Rompuy needs to get out of the way of the people' s democratic hopes and ambitions or things will definitely get ugly here.

A Londoner's picture

I read this article just after skyping my Spanish language partner. He had explained to me that there was little interest in the EP elections. I know this is true in the UK and I think it is true for France.

My impression is that because of this lack of interest, in any conflict between nationally elected leaders and the EP, populations are likely to side with the national politicians.

Are there countries where there is an interest in the activities of the EP? Which?

Eurochild's picture

Oh, purleez, there is nothing "democratic" about this way of selecting the Commission president, and Van Rompuy is absolutely right that most Europeans feel their national governments represent them much more than the European parliament does.

Moreover, the Lisbon Treaty does not state that the Commission president is to be selected solely on the basis of the European parliament election results, merely that they are to be taken into consideration. This ploy to manoeuvre the whole selection process via the European parliament is a violation of the Treaty of Lisbon which, if you wish to recall, had a turgid enough passage to legality. So, anything that abuses the Lisbon Treaty to further make people fear that Brussels institutions are coalescing more power for themselves that is outside of the bounds of influence by national governments will not make Europeans feel that the EU is becoming more democratic - the opposite, I would say.

And, let's not forget that the European parliament is not just a Brussels instution but a Strasbourg one - an unchangeable fact which few Europeans agree with.

The worst thing about this whole process is the possiblity of having the apalling Schulz imposed upon us. He would be an absolute disaster and set the EU back decades.

The idea that the national governments should have no say in the selection of the next commission president is outrageous. That's what advocates of the European parliament process are pushing for.

Eurochild's picture

P.S. The way in which Julian Priestley, Schulz's "campaign" head, brazenly talks about whatever the results even of the European parliament elections and regardless of any opposition from national governments, they will still find a way of installing Schulz as Commission president is chilling and absolutely nothing to do with the "democratic legitimacy" he claims he supports.

What is a true travesty is the way in which they are gearing up to force the disastrous Schulz upon us and attempting to present this as "democracy".

I also don't understand why Juncker is attempting to present European Council meetings of the heads of all EU national governments as "backroom" deals. As Von Rompuy points out, Europeans feel much closer to their national governments, and our prime ministers are the ones who would be selecting the new Commission president at the European Council. Juncker, as prime minister of Luxembourg for nearly 20 years was an active and vocal member of what he is now dismissing as a "backroom"!

Is Juncker really saying that the European Council - where our elected governments meet, negotiate and agree upon EU policy, is nothing more than a "backroom"? But, he instead thinks the European parliament, which no one really cares about and which is filled with mostly political party people who don't have much chance on a national level where they would come under real scrutinty but have worked their way through the party committee and up its power structures, is somehow more representative of the will of the European people?

This way of imposing a Commission president through the European parliament seems more like a "backroom deal" which Europeans and our national governments have little control over, especially the way the Schulz camp feel they have already wrapped it up even if the Socialists don't get the most seats.

If the Socialists really want the next president to come from their camp, then they would be much better off supporting someone like Pascal Lamy (and not through this Euro parliament process, but through the meeting of European heads of government).

In fact, this whole European parliament way of selecting the Commission president makes the Commission much more partisan. The Commission and Commission president are meant to be neutral and not support one party or another, their
role is to uphold the EU treaties (which Schulz is already advocating violating, by saying Italy and France shouldn't have to aim to reduce their deficits).

Even so, traditionally, the whole composition of the Commission is intended to be balanced between the various European parties and also have a gender balance. So, if the Commission president is a partisan character, supposedly elected because he/she has stood with a specific political party agenda, then does that mean the rest of the Commission is to be made up of Commissioners who are supporting a party agenda too? In which case, national governments who are wary of, say, Schulz's political party agenda, could appoint conservative Commissioners who believe in fiscal consolidation. Then, instead of having a harmonious Commission that works well together, we will have infighting over direction. Then Schulz, in particular, will tell the Commissioners appointed by their national governments to shut up as he is the true representative of the will of the European people because he was "elected"!

an european's picture

He He
At least an European Luxemburger and German who shows the path of democracy to Mr.Rompfuy.
Finally !
But Still need to listen as well what Tony Blair said in 2009 about European Presidency !