Diplomats: No matter who wins EU elections, the favourite is Lagarde

Manifestants vêtus de masques des dirigeants européens. Bruxelles, 9 avril. [EURACTIV]

IMF chief Christine Lagarde is being increasingly name checked, in the context of preparations for the 27 May EU summit, two days after the results of the European elections are known, diplomats told EURACTIV.

EU leaders will meet for a special summit on 27 May, in order to discuss the aftermath of two elections. It was previously announced that the heads of state and government will gather in Brussels for a dinner to review the results of the European elections. But the news is that EU leaders will also take stock of the Presidential election held on 25 May in Ukraine, the role of Russia, and the eventuality of moving to the “third level” of sanctions, which will hit the Russian economy, and backfire on the Union.

Regarding the result of the European elections, the discussion is likely to be “messy” if the outcome doesn’t show a clear winner, an EU diplomat said. Opinion polls held across the EU have shown that the results, between the centre-right European peoples’ party (EPP) and the centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES), may be too close to call.

The political thinking is that EU leaders should not “abide” by the results, but take the results “into account”. The biggest challenge would be if PES candidate Martin Schulz wins the elections, diplomats say, implying that if the EPP candidate Jean-Claude Juncker gains the upper hand, Europe’s political leadership would be happier.

In the case of a clear winner, a likely result would be for EU leaders to state that they would propose this candidate to Parliament, where he should be able to get a clear majority. In that case, current Council President Herman Van Rompuy would get a mandate to discuss the process with member states, and with the MEPs. The former Belgian Prime Minister is an advocate of appointing an “outsider” as Commission President, rather than one of the EU elections leading candidates, or “Spitzenkandidaten”.

As the European Parliament is expected to elect its new president in July, EU leaders would prefer that the Commission President is elected before, in order to avoid deciding on a package of appointments at that stage. Member states are more in favour of discussing a package of positions, including determining the President of the European Council, EU foreign affairs chief and President of the Eurogroup, in September.

If Juncker wins the elections, he has reasonably good chances of getting the Commission President job. If Schulz wins, his chances are smaller, because it is less likely that he will get a qualified majority of the heads of state and government. Regarding liberal ALDE candidate Guy Verhofstadt, diplomats discarded his chances of winning such a majority.

But the most likely development would be that neither of the Spitzenkandidaten emerge in strong position, and that EU leaders will promote a candidate from outside. The name which has been frequently mentioned recently is that of Lagarde, EURACTIV was told.

The current IMF chief is EPP-affiliated, but apparently this is not seen as an obstacle, despite the fact that France is governed by the Socialists.

Analysts have also predicted that none of the three Spitzenkandidaten is likely to become Commission President [read more].

Schulz, who continues to lead the parliament while he is campaigning, has made it clear that the next parliament would not vote in support of a candidate appointed behind closed doors. German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, has recently warned against proposing an outside candidate, saying that such move by EU leaders would “destroy EU democracy” [read more].

However, diplomats appear to suggest that the EU electorate would understand such a move, if it’s properly explained.

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.

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

But others have argued that the European parties’ push for their 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 council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.

  • 22-25 May: European Parliament elections.
  • 27 May: EU leaders meet in Brussels for extraordinary summit.

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