Finnish PM Katainen ‘not a candidate’ for EU Commission job

Jyrki Katainen.jpg

EXCLUSIVE / Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, who had been seen as one of the likely nominees to replace José Manuel Barroso as EU Commission president, is not a candidate, EURACTIV was told by one of his closest aides.

Pasi Rajala, special adviser on EU affairs to the Finnish prime minister, said Katainen was not in the running for nomination of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), of which his National Coalition Party is a member.

The EPP will hold a congress in Dublin on 6 and 7 March to select their nominee for the Commission top job following the EU elections in May.

Speaking to EURACTIV Czech Republic in January, Joseph Daul, the EPP president, named Katainen among the four EPP candidates who could be nominated in Dublin. The others are former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Latvian prime minister, Valdis Dombrovskis, and the current Commissioner for the Internal Market Michel Barnier.

In this interview, Daul said he was touring EU capitals to sound out support for the four and assess their chances of representing the EPP at the European election.

In the meantime Daul apparently corrected himself, saying the EPP selection process had not officially begun yet. Indeed, the process of nominations is now scheduled for between 13 February and 5 March.

According to the agreed procedure, the EPP candidate will first need the support of his own national political party plus a written endorsement by EPP-affiliated parties from at least two other EU countries. The EPP congress will review candidate’s credentials on 6 February. Then, on 7 March, the 830 voting members of the EPP congress will elect their candidate from those qualified by secret ballot.

But Katainen cannot be a candidate at the EPP congress because his own political party has not nominated him, EURACTIV was told. As prime minister, Katainen is needed at home until parliamentary elections are held in Finland, in April 2015.

Meanwhile, former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has improved his chances of winning the EPP nomination, since German Chancellor Angela Merkel has indicated her support for the veteran politician.

“Juncker is going to be our man,” a well informed source said.

Katainen may however still stand a chance when EU leaders decide on Barroso’s successor at their June summit meeting.

The Lisbon Treaty stipulates that the European Parliament shall elect the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). The nominations of the political groups are expected to play a role in the decision making, but the final choice still lies with the heads of states and government.

“Mr. Katainen has said that if somebody calls him, he will take the call,” said Rajala.

Matters get more complicated for the EPP when considering the case of Michel Barnier. Although his Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party says it supports the French commissioner, it also reportedly supports Christine Lagarde, the IMF director general.

“The UMP need to make a choice, a party cannot have two candidates,” one EPP source told EURACTIV.

The European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.

European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns. This would make the European elections a de facto race for the Commission president seat, would politicise the campaigns and could increase voter turnout, they say.

But others have argued that the European parties’ push for own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has repeatedly said, calling for caution in case the European Council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.

  • 1 March: PES (centre left) congress in Rome, Marin Schulz to be confirmed
  • 6-7 March 2014: EPP (Centre-Right) Congress in Dublin, selecting their candidate

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