Next Commission chief could be ‘an outsider’, Van Rompuy says

Herman Van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker [European Council]

Herman Van Rompuy and Jean-Claude Juncker [European Council]

Herman Van Rompuy, the European Council President, has reiterated his personal reservations about the pan-European ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ for the EU elections, stressing the next EU Commission president “needs a large majority in the Council too”.

“We have to respect the Treaty when appointing the next European Commission president,” Van Rompuy told the Belgian public broadcaster VRT on Sunday morning (18 May).

“There must be a simple majority in Parliament, 376 votes. And there must be a large majority in the European Council of heads of states,” Van Rompuy said, underlining the necessity for the next Commission President to win the backing of both institutions.

“We will have to look into this after the elections. We’re gathering with all heads of state and government. Right before this Council, I will meet with the president of the European Parliament [Martin Schulz] who will report on the first discussion in Parliament.”

Van Rompuy has penciled in an meeting of EU heads of states just two days after the elections, on Tuesday 27 May. In the morning, European parties will gather in the EU Parliament to discuss their position. “I will consult the Parliament; first the president and then the factions. And we will try to come up with a balanced solution that prevents a clash,” he said.

“We will respect the Treaty and try to prevent a clash of the institutions. And we’ll try to settle this as soon as possible,” said Van Rompuy.

Collision course

This could put Van Rompuy on a collision course with the candidates representing the five main parties at the European Parliament elections.

In a debate in Brussels last Thursday (15 May), the five candidates stressed they would block all progress if the Council nominated someone who did not participate in the pan-European race for the EU’s lead position.

Whether choosing one of the five candidates would help in preventing such a clash “is a step too far,” Van Rompuy stressed. “I understand those candidates defend themselves. But we’ll have to find a solution that suits a majority in Parliament and a large majority amongst member states.”

EURACTIV reported earlier that German chancellor Angela Merkel allegedly told the centre-right candidate Jean-Claude Juncker that she would support his candidacy if he wins the elections.

“That is said between Ms Merkel and Mr Juncker. I wasn’t present so I can’t judge this,” the Council president reacted when pressed about those reports.

‘You shouldn’t pay too much attention to Farage’

In the past few weeks, the five official single candidates (or ‘Spitzenkandidates’) that were nominated by the European political parties discussed their vision for Europe in a series of presidential debates aired on television.

In doing so, the parties hoped to better connect citizens to European politics and boost voter turnout which has consistently dropped since the first EU elections were held in 1979.

But Van Rompuy said, “The trust in the European institutions is still bigger than the trust in national institutions. We’re experiencing a crisis of politics in general. We shouldn’t pretend that this populism is a new thing – it was around in France ten years ago, too.”

“I expect to have a large, strong minority of people who doubt the European project or European politics […] but I expect a large majority of members that show an allegiance to the institutions,” the Belgian diplomat responded to the predicted rise of eurosceptic MEPs in several member states.

In related comments, Van Rompuy referred to the moment in 2010 that the eurosceptic member of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage said he had “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a bank clerk”.

“Farage is fauna and flora of the EP,” the Council president said. “You shouldn’t pay too much attention to him.”

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

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

But president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has shown strong objections to the idea and keeps the option on the table that EU leaders will nominate an outsider who didn’t step up as candidate – much against the will of pan-European parties.

>> All info: The EU top jobs: Who's next?

  • 22-25 May: European elections to be held in all 28 member countries
  • 27 May: Conference of presidents of the European Parliament meets in an extraordinary meeting
  • 27 May: Parties hold pre-summit meetings; heads of state join their parties to discuss the elections
  • 27 May: EU leaders meet for extraordinary summit to take stock of the elections results
  • 26-27 June: Nomination of Commission president at the European Council summit.
  • 1-3 July: Plenary session of the newly constituted European Parliament. Informal negotiations with EU Council and possible bilateral or multilateral negotiations with heads of state.
  • 14-17 July: Parliament votes on European Council’s nomination of Commission president in its plenary session.
  • 1 Nov.: Target date for new Commission to take office.
  • Nov.: End of mandate of Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

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