Winners and losers in race for the EU’s top jobs

With 40% of new MEPs being women and two of the four key positions having been allocated to women, parity appears to have been respected or at least reinforced by these European elections.

The distribution of the various key positions within the European institutions needs to take into account a delicate balance between geographical and political origin. In this complex exercise, some fared better than others. EURACTIV France reports.

“The criteria of competence, experience, parity and political and geographical balance have been met,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who congratulated himself at the end of the meeting of EU leaders, who decided on the picks for the EU’s top positions.

His assessment, however, does not highlight some of the disparities.

Eastern Europe left empty-handed 

The distribution among the 28 EU member states favoured the EU’s ‘old’ member states.

With a German candidate for the presidency of the European Commission (Ursula von der Leyen), a Belgian as European Council president (Charles Michel), a Spanish high representative for foreign affairs (Josep Borrell) and a Frenchwoman as president of the European Central Bank (Christine Lagarde), the EU’s oldest member states have taken the lion’s share.

Italy, despite its shift towards populism, has kept a top position within the EU as the Italian socialist David Maria Sassoli was elected European Parliament president.

Even the proposed vice-presidents of the European Commission, the Danish Margrethe Vestager and the Dutch Frans Timmermans, come from old member states from Western Europe.

On the other hand, Eastern European counties emerged empty-handed after the top jobs race. None of the countries that joined the EU after 2007 obtained a key position for one of their nationals.

Worse still, the attempt by European leaders to present Bulgarian Sergei Stanishev as a candidate for the European Parliament’s presidency failed due to the lack of support from Stanishev’s own political family.

For the time being, the only Eastern European with a position of influence is the Romanian Dacian Ciolos. He has been elected president of the group of centrists in the European Parliament (Renew Europe), and only because France’s Nathalie Loiseau gave up her spot.

Political parties

Despite the loss of their absolute majority in the European Parliament and a historic setback in several countries that benefitted the Greens, populists and centrists, the two major European political groups – the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) – have managed to maintain their positions within the institutions.

The EPP thus obtained the Commission presidency, a spot which had been hotly contested. The EPP also gained the Parliament’s presidency for the second half of the mandate.

Even Christine Lagarde, who has been appointed to lead the European Central Bank (ECB), previously served as France’s economy minister under President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government, bringing her closer to the EPP.

Christine Lagarde, a non-conventional pick for the ECB presidency

A lawyer by training, Christine Lagarde has been nominated to succeed Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Banck (ECB). The IMF director has an atypical profile, due to her lack of banking experience and question marks over her past. EURACTIV France reports.

Europe’s Socialists inherited the first part of the mandate of the president of the European Parliament, as well as the position of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Their Spitzenkandidat, Frans Timmermans, is expected to get the position of vice-president of the European Commission.

Renew Europe, the new family of European centrists and liberals, have done particularly well, winning the presidency of the European Council and one of the Commission’s vice-presidencies with Margrethe Vestager.

The most underserved are undoubtedly the populists. Despite a relative surge in the European elections, they remain isolated on the political scene.

In the European Parliament, populist parties could have claimed certain positions given the size of their new parliamentary group (Identity and Democracy). However, the so-called ‘cordon sanitaire’ rule, implemented by other political groups, deprived them of the Parliament’s vice-presidency.

MEPs to block Le Pen's party from taking Parliament jobs

Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and its allies are facing protest from the European Parliament’s political groups, who are refusing to involve the French far-right party in a process that will decide on the Parliament’s key positions. EURACTIV France reports.

So close to gender parity 

With 40% of new MEPs being women and two of the four key positions having been allocated to women, parity among the EU’s top jobs appears to have been respected or at least reinforced by these European elections.

Christine Lagarde, Forbes’ third most powerful woman in the world last year, will leave her position at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to take over the presidency of the ECB.

Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen was chosen by EU leaders to preside over the European Commission. Although the German conservative pick still needs to be approved by MEPs, this could be the first time a woman heads the European Commission.

Gender balance becomes paramount in race for top EU jobs

Initial battle lines were drawn between member states over who will replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President on Tuesday (28 May) as EU leaders met to discuss “no names, just process”, in preparation for a decisive summit in June.

In the European Parliament, the gender balance has been improving since 1979, according to the latest data published by the Parliament, rising from 16% in 1979 to 41% in 2019.

On the other hand, only two women have headed the European Parliament: Nicole Fontaine in 1999 and Simone Veil in 1979.

Francophonie

Good news for ‘la Francophonie’ as the five new leaders of the EU’s institutions are French-speakers.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.