Think tanks brush portrait of next EU Commission chief

Candidates for President of the European Commission in 2014

Candidates for President of the European Commission in 2014. [Jonworth/flickr]

The identity of the next European Commission President is still unknown, but two think thanks have come together to analyse what will make the next President stand out from the rest and secure the job. EURACTIV France reports.

Speculations are rife on who will be the next president of the European Commission.

In a study titled “Who will the Commission’s Next President Be?”, Yves Bertoncini and Thierry Chopin, directors of Notre Europe and the Robert Schuman Foundation, present what they think matters when choosing the next Commission chief.

EU Heads of State and governments are at loggerheads and have appointed the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, to sound out the best man or woman for the job.

Theoretically, the next President should be decided on by July 2014. Bertoncini and Chopin focus on what they think will distinguish the winner.


According to the two directors, the candidates who secured the most votes in the European elections will be favourites in the negotiations between the European Council and the European Parliament.

The five candidates – Jean-Claude Juncker for the centre-right, Martin Schulz for the centre-left, Guy Verhofstadt for the Liberals, Ska Keller for the Greens and Alexis Tsipras for the far-left – have been plagued with uncertainty over the past few days.

“The Heads of states and governments cannot select a candidate of their choice based only on diplomatic negotiations like in the days of the Treaty of Westphalia, and without formal approval from the European Parliament”, the study states.

>> Read: ‘No momentum’ for Juncker: EU leaders leave options open

An absolute majority within the European Parliament cannot be formed by one political group due to the proportional electoral system. This means that the Commission President will emerge from a coalition.

“For previous nominations, the proportional representation system meant that the future President had to call on the support of left and right-wing MEPs to form a trans-partisan majority. Only half of past Commission Presidents have emerged from the party that came out on top during European elections,” they write.

Personality matters

The candidate’s personality may be a factor. According to the study, the Parliament could be swayed by the candidate’s profile and the positions they are likely to take as President.

A good knowledge of English and French will also be a requirement for the next candidate. “A non-written rule that is sometimes cited is that in order to carry out his or her duties, it is necessary for the Commission President to fully master the use of the institution’s two working languages: French and English,” the study reports.

>> Read: Next EU Commission President will be a polyglot

Another rule that is not written into the European treaties, and which could benefit both Jean-Claude Juncker and Guy Verhofstadt, is for the President of the Commission to have ‘Prime Minister’ on their CV. This was a feature for Jacques Santer, Romano Prodi and José Manuel Barrosso.

Schengen area and Eurozone

According to the study, candidates from European countries that are part of the Schengen area and the Eurozone are more likely to win the top job.

“After analysing Commission Presidents since 1990, it is clear that there is an unofficial norm that the Commission President should come from a country engaged in European integration, which means being part of the Schengen area and the Eurozone.”

Finally, the choice of President will also depend on the distribution of top-jobs at a European and international level. Other top jobs will be decided over the next few months: President of the European Parliament in June, Vice-President in July, President of the Council by autumn and President of the Eurogroup in 2015.

The European elections will be held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament elects 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.

European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns.

Other politicians believe that choosing a top candidate is not the ideal solution. Van Rompuy has called for caution numerous times: the European Council could choose a different candidate from the party that wins.

>> Read more in our LinksDossier

  •  July 2014: the next President of the EU Commission should be appointed.

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