In an invitation sent out on Wednesday (21 May), European Council president Herman Van Rompuy tells EU leaders that the EU Summit on 27 May will be too early to have a decision on the next EU Commission president.

Van Rompuy, who presides over the meetings of all EU government chiefs, is hosting the EU Summit next week, on Tuesday (27 May).

The invitation letter, inviting all 28 heads of state and government to Brussels, reads:

"A few days before, European citizens will have cast their vote for the European Parliament. Some may have voted for or against the European project as such, but many more will have expressed themselves on how they want to shape our Union. I would like us to discuss the outcome of the elections and to look at what we can learn from its results."

"It will be too early to decide about names. We will talk about the process leading to the European Council proposing a candidate for the future Presidency of the Commission to the European Parliament for election, as set out in the Treaty on the European Union and in Declaration 11 to that Treaty, and how to organise our work over the coming weeks."

[Read the full letter here]

Over the past months, the European political parties led pan-European campaigns to get their ‘Spitzenkandidat’ or lead candidate elected to lead the next Commission’s presidency.

The faction that wins the most seats after Sunday will depict their candidate as the designated EU Commission president. The presidents of the factions will gather on Tuesday morning (27 May) to discuss the results.

The candidates need to find a majority of votes in the new Parliament to get themselves elected as Commission president. But before this, they too have to be nominated by EU member states and have to secure their own government’s endorsement as future Commissioner of their country.

Turning the tables

But national governments have shown little enthusiasm for the parties’ initiative. European Council president Van Rompuy, especially, has criticized the efforts numerous times in the past.

Member states could prefer an ‘outsider’ that didn’t campaign for the post. Christine Lagarde, the French managing director of the IMF, has been named in Brussels over the past few weeks as a likely candidate, but many others are taking part in the race, as outsiders.

“They can close the doors of this Parliament if that happens,” shouted liberal candidate Guy Verhofstadt in a debate, last week. The two frontrunners amongst the candidates, Martin Schulz (socialist, Germany) and Jean-Claude Juncker (centre-right, Luxembourg) have consistently confirmed that the EU Parliament will block any outsider that EU member states nominate.

In February, Van Rompuy announced he was gathering EU leaders just two days after the elections. This put pressure on the European political parties: if they wanted their Spitzenkandidaten-initiative to succeed, they’d best forge a deal within 48 hours of the polls closing.

With the invitation letter, the president of the Council suggests that the negotiation process could take weeks. Parties and member states are likely to engage in negotiations over a package deal, which would include a number of other lead positions in EU institutions.

The Council’s official nomination is scheduled for the EU Summit on 26-27 June, in Brussels. If all parties see their wishes fulfilled, Parliament is set to elect the next EU Commission president in its second plenary session on 14-17 July.

But recent discussions between the political parties and Van Rompuy at this point suggest it could be a drawn-out negotiation process that takes up more summer weeks.