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.
Conclusion from the first #EPplenary session: I consider @vonderleyen a strong and competent candidate for the @EU_Commission, but not happy that North, Central and Eastern European countries not represented #EUTopJobs
— Andrus Ansip (@Ansip_EU) July 4, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
Good news for ‘la Francophonie’ as the five new leaders of the EU’s institutions are French-speakers.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]