Haggling begins over EU president nomination

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will play a decisive role in negotiating the European Council's nomination choice for the European Commission presidency. [EC]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will play a decisive role in negotiating the European Council's nomination choice for the European Commission presidency. [EC]

In the meeting among heads of state and government today, Angela Merkel will play a decisive role. But which position is the Chancellor taking to Brussels? And what will become of Martin Schulz? EURACTIV Germany reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is travelling to Brussels this evening for an informal dinner in the European Council. It will be the first chance for heads of state and government to exchange views following the European elections. There is much to discuss. How should the election results be evaluated? Who will be the new Commission president?

On Monday in Berlin, Merkel explained: “My guess is that we will give our Council president Herman Van Rompuy a mandate to carry out consultations. Then he will report to us in the Council on 26-27 June.” She does not expect that concrete personnel issues will be discussed on Tuesday, Merkel said.

Coming out of the EU elections as the strongest force in the European Parliament, the conservative European People’s Party (EPP) has a right to the Commission presidency. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) gained significantly in Germany, but for the time being it seems certain that the EPP will be the largest political group in the next European Parliament.

Because there is no left-of-centre majority – even in the case of a four-way coalition between Socialists, Greens, Liberals and Left – it seems only a grand coalition will be able to form the necessary majority for a vote of approval on the next Commission president.

On Monday, the three party chiefs from the centre-right Christian Democratic Union, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) met on Monday evening in Berlin. At the meeting between Chancellor Merkel, Horst Seehofer and Sigmar Gabriel, the three discussed how the German government will negotiate in the European Council regarding the top candidate issue.

“Yesterday, there was an attempt to draw red lines, to explore how far one can go in which direction, and which comprises one is ready to accept domestically”, explained Klaus-Dieter Sohn, department director at the Centre for European Policy (cep) in Freiburg, speaking with EURACTIV Germany.

Schulz for President?

With Merkel in a prominent role, the German position is decisive in today’s meeting among heads of state and government in Brussels, said Nicolai von Ondarza from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), in a statement for EURACTIV Germany.

As the second-strongest force, the Socialists on Sunday (25 May) announced their own claim to the Commission presidency post.

“Already before the election, Martin Schulz said: Whoever has the strongest political group will become Commission president. Now he is already pack-pedalling and saying: Whoever can assemble a majority in the Parliament will become Commission president,” said von Ondarza.

“But for the time being,” the political researcher said, “it is unclear where Martin Schulz intends to get a majority, which could aid him in a power struggle with the European Council over the Commission presidency.”

Why should Merkel even accept a debate over Schulz as Commission president? What could the Socialists offer in return? The Socialists support Eurobonds and the communitarisation of debt, said Sohn.

“What incentive does Mrs. Merkel have to submit herself to that?” he asked, “ The conservative-led countries will also not go along with this. I cannot imagine that one could make the conservatives an offer that is so lucrative, that they would say ‘we will risk our necks back at home.’”

The question is not what one would have to offer Merkel, Sohn said. The question is what one would have to offer Schulz.

“What would one have to offer the European Socialists, to ensure them that their top candidate will not entirely sink into oblivion? That man has enormous popularity ratings. One cannot simply pack him away after the election,” Sohn explained.

So the prospect of Schulz being offered the office of Commission president is unlikely. In compensation as part of a grand coalition he could be offered a different role in the Commission. The main position which to be demanded by the Socialists is the High Representative of Foreign Affairs post, von Ondarza said. And this post could quite possibly be filled by Schulz.

“A strong position, from which he could appear in the media and travel the world”, said Sohn. “If the position is approached wisely, much more can be made out of it than Mrs. Ashton did.”

But von Ondarza believes that Schulz’s lack of a foreign policy background will count against him.

As a matter fact, the position of Commission vice president would surely also be interesting, said von Ondarza. In the Commission there are two areas which Schulz has an interest in politically.

“First, economic areas. He has actively promoted a social Europe,” von Ondarza indicated, “On the other hand, there is the data protection issue and the digital agenda, which he also focused on during the election campaign. From the Socialists’ perspective, it would definitely have to be a profile in the Commission with significant political importance.”

The European elections were 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.

Subscribe to our newsletters