None of the leading candidates will be Commission President: analyst

"EU leaders". Photo Georgi Gotev

"EU leaders". Photo Georgi Gotev

None of the three leading candidates will become President of the Commission, José Ignacio Torreblanca, senior research fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations has told EURACTIV.  Instead, EU leaders will choose a “Barroso-type” compromise candidate, he said.

Torreblanca recently co-authored an ECFR report titled “The Eurosceptic surge and how to respond to it”. He predicted that neither the Socialist candidate Martin Schulz, nor the European People’s Party frontman Jean-Claude Juncker would take over from José Manuel Barroso as President of the European Commission.

Faced with an expected surge in populists and eurosceptics, he explained that only a grand coalition between the centre-right and the centre-left in the European Parliament could work. Neither of these groups would allow such a pact to be led by the other party’s candidate.

Torreblanca said that a coalition led by the Socialists, including the Greens and the Liberals would not be strong enough, as it would have less than 51% of MEPs needed.

A coalition led by the EPP with the Liberals and the Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists wouldn’t function either. A pro-European Liberal leader such as Guy Verhofstadt would not be able to work with the Tories, the Czech eurosceptics, or the Polish Peasant Party (PiS).

“The most obvious coalition is the one that is de facto governing now,” Torreblanca said, referring to the loose agreement between the centre-left and centre-right which has been able to decide on the President of the European Parliament on a rotating basis.

The analyst called such agreement “a repetition of what has happened in Germany, at the European level,” referring to the coalition between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the social-democrats in Germany, established after the federal elections in September 2013.

Asked about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is likely to be the most difficult piece of legislation to pass through parliament, Torreblanca conceded that even a grand coalition including EPP, Socialists and Liberals would not be sufficient. The Socialists may split over the issue and it is difficult to say if it will pass, he said.

Asked if the parliament could accept a president appointed by EU national leaders, in defiance of the leading candidates’ campaign, Torreblanca said that member  states could preempt MEPs’ angry reaction. They would have to send “first class people” as candidates for Commissioners, and one of them would end up Commission President.

Torreblanca suggested that the next president would be similar to Barroso. He was a candidate of one of the major groups (EPP) who got the support of leaders representing the other large group (the Spanish and Portuguese Socialists gave their support to Barroso).

Especially if there is no clear winner in the parliament, the council will have the last word, Torreblanca said. And indeed the parliament will have to decide whether to clash with the council, he added.

A number of politicians have been seen as possible “dark horses” in case the EU leaders decide to ignore the European elections result. Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen (EPP-affiliated) has said he is “available” [read more]. Two other frequently mentioned compromise figures are International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (EPP-affiliated) and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (PES-affiliated), if the next president is appointed the traditional way, behind closed doors.

Schulz, who continues to lead the parliament while he is campaigning, has made it plain that the next parliament would not vote in support of a candidate appointed behind closed doors.

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.
  • November: Appointment of new European Commission.

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