Barnier takes on Juncker for EU Commission job


French EU Commissioner Michel Barnier filed his candidacy on Friday (28 February) to become the European People’s Party’s candidate for the European Commission presidency, in a race that will be decided at the EPP congress later this week. EURACTIV France contributed to this report.

Barnier formalised his candidacy on Friday (28 February), the EPP announced in a statement.

The Frenchman secured endorsements from his own party, the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), as well as those of the NSi party in Slovenia and the Fidesz party in Hungary.

Barnier currently serves as EU commissioner for the internal market and services. Brussels insiders say he has a good profile for a top position in the EU institutions. But a lack of support in his home country, France, is his greatest weakness as Barnier is unlikely to be nominated as French commissioner by the current Socialist government.

The governing Socialist Party (PS) – and particularly its left wing – has heavily criticised the outgoing EU Commission team’s work. The PS is also eager to get a commissioner from its own party approved.

But even within his own centre-right party Barnier faces criticism: “He is too leftist, too European,” an MEP told EURACTIV France. “But it is his decision [to enter the EPP campaign] – we warned him and he decided against it.”

Jean-François Copé, head of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), has supported the French commissioner in public but remained notably quiet in the wake of Barnier’s announcement, last Friday. Barnier is also not heading any electoral lists in France.

Three contenders, one favourite

The French commissioner will compete with fellow centre-right heavyweights to lead the EPP campaign towards the EU elections on 22-25 May. The lead candidate also serves as the political family’s favourite for the presidency of the next EU Commission that will be nominated after the election (see background).

Aside from Barnier, two figures have filed their candidacy for the centre-right top spot. Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister, is in the lead to obtain the party’s nomination, and has won the support of a heavyweight, German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the Latvian former prime minister, announced he would enter the race two weeks ago. “I have dealt with the financial and economic crisis in my own member state and I believe this is an experience which I can bring to the EU level,” Dombrovskis told EURACTIV in an interview.

Centre-right politicians can still file their candidacy up until this Wednesday (5 March). A fourth contender would be a huge surprise: EPP president Joseph Daul told EURACTIV Czech Republic in an interview that these three were quasi confirmed. A fourth contender, Finnish PM Jyrki Katainen, told EURACTIV earlier he would not run.

>> Read: Centre-right candidates asked to step forward

The EPP is holding its electoral congress this week, in Dublin. The party will organise a review of its candidates to the frontrunner spot on Thursday (6 March) and will vote on the candidates on Friday (7 March).

The party will also adopt its election "manifesto", a common programme that serves as a basis for national parties to shape their EU elections campaign.

The EPP is the last of major European parties to kick-off its electoral campaign. The liberal party ALDE adopted its manifesto at a congress in London on 28-30 November and selected its candidate in Brussels on 1 February. The European Greens gathered in Brussels on 21-23 February, and the socialist PES party has just wrapped up their congress in Rome, which was held this weekend (28 February-1 March).

>> Read our LinksDossier: The EU top jobs: Who’s next?

The European elections will be held in all EU countries on 22-25 May. Since the treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament elects the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council “taking into account” the European elections (Article 17.7, TEU).

European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their frontrunners in the election campaigns, which makes the EU elections a de facto race for the Commission president seat. This is the first campaign in which this is the case – although observers are still uncertain on the eventual outcome.

>> More information in our LinksDossiers on the EU elections and on EU top jobs.

  • 5 March: closing of nominations for contenders to lead the EPP’s campaign and serve as candidate for the European Commission presidency.
  • 6 March: EPP discusses the candidates at their electoral congress in Dublin.
  • 7 March: EPP selects its common candidate.
  • 22-25 May: EU elections in all 28 member states.

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