EPP: Next Commission President must be a coalition builder

L'assemblée plénière du Parlement européen © Parlement européen

The next president of the European Commission shall be from the political family able to form the necessary qualified majority in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) stated yesterday (7 April).

The chairmen of EPP groups in the national parliaments of the EU met yesterday in Brussels and gave their support to Jean-Claude Juncker in his quest to become president of the European Commission. The long-serving Luxembourg prime minister was chosen to lead the EPP’s pan-European election campaign following a vote by party affiliates at the party’s congress in Dublin on 7 March.

In a communiqué, the chairmen of the EPP parliamentary groups said that the president of the European Commission must be chosen according to the letter and the spirit of the Treaty, taking full account of the results of the European elections.

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).

But according to recent opinion polls, the centre-right EPP and the centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are projected to be neck-and-neck in the next 751-member European Parliament.

The PollWatch2014 recently presented at a conference organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) shows that both the EPP and S&D are likely to have 212 MEPs. (In the present parliament, the EPP has 275 MEPs and S&D has 194.) The third largest political group will likely still be the liberal ALDE with 62 MEPs (down from 85 MEPs at present).

Simon Hix, professor of European and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics, said that the leftist GUE/NGL had the potential to overtake the liberals as the third force. The group of Greens is expected to shrink to 38 MEPs, from 58 at present.

Faced with the pressure from a large anti-federalist and populist coalition of 200+ MEPs, the next European Parliament will have to function like a grand coalition government, Hix said.

In their public statements, political players have mentioned winning the European elections as the main argument for their candidate to claim the post of European Commission president, seen as the most important in the EU institutions.

Skills to form alliances

The EPP is therefore the first to speak not of victory, but of the capacity to build a coalition. “The candidate to become the next President of the European Commission shall proceed from the political family able to form the necessary qualified majority in the European Parliament”, the chairmen of the EPP parliamentary groups stated.

Under the co-decision procedure, an absolute majority of MEPs is necessary in plenary session when voting on a second reading in order to reject the Council position at first reading or to adopt amendments. The absolute majority in the new 751-member parliament is 376 MEPs.

But as national interests often prevail, MEPs are less disciplined to vote along party lines and a majority well above 50% would be needed to provide stability. A working coalition is likely to involve the EPP, S&D, ALDE and the Greens, giving the latter two small parties the role of kingmakers.

The EU does not have any rules on how leaders of political forces propose or build a coalition in the European Parliament, nor if such coalitions should be built on the basis of a written agreement.

EU leaders will meet on 27 May, two days after the European elections, to discuss their result. It is unlikely, however, that they would immediately propose a Commission president, as the Parliament may feel offended and vote down the candidate proposed by EU heads of state and government.

Next May’s European elections are the first to be held under the Lisbon Treaty, which grants the European Parliament the power to vote on the president of the EU executive, the European Commission.

Up until December 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty came into force, EU leaders in the European Council selected the Commission president behind closed doors and in a package deal with other EU top jobs.

According to Article 17.7 of the TEU, EU leaders now have to “take into account” the results of the EU elections, and nominate their candidate “after appropriate consultations" with the newly elected parliament.

Parties have taken things into own hands by nominating their own candidates for the top spot. These ‘single candidates’ will lead a pan-European campaign and, after the elections in May, the largest political force in the new European Parliament is presumed to put their nominee forward to succeed the current commission president, José Manuel Barroso.

>> For more background see our LinksDossier on top jobs.

  • 25 May: European elections
  • 27 May: EU leaders meet for an extraordinary summit to discuss the results of the EU elections

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