French President Emmanuel Macron wants to change the Spitzenkandidaten process to create a strong European executive. According to him, the programme comes first, and only then the candidates who could implement it. EURACTIV France reports.
On Tuesday (28 May) in Brussels, as the 28 heads of state and government met to take stock after the elections, the French president continued his strategy of shaking up the European institutions.
“These elections mark a new stage for Europe and we are not going to pretend that nothing has changed,” Macron said. He highlighted the increased voter turnout, the hope of young people and the need to act quickly on several issues, including climate change, social issues, innovation, and European defence policy.
This extraordinary summit, organised at France’s request, had been carefully prepared by France.
For the first time, several EU heads of state arrived at the Council with the same language elements, obviously briefed by Macron.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and French President Macron all said that “the important thing is not to find a candidate but a programme”.
Luxembourgish Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also had a similar message but took a little more freedom with the initial script.
This unprecedented alliance is of course intended to ensure that Manfred Weber, the right-wing candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), does not take over the European Commission presidency.
According to the French president, the ideal candidate will have experience and credibility, while embodying renewal and change in European politics.
This strategy collided with supporters of the classical right, but also with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said she continued to support the Spitzenkandidaten process.
However, she is increasingly alone in supporting the process: the European Parliament, which met Tuesday morning, had failed to vote in favour of it, simply recalling its wish to see a candidate who had a programme and had campaigned before the elections.
The other lead candidates for the European Commission presidency did not express themselves in favour of the theoretical winner, Manfred Weber, whose political group won the most seats. Unlike in 2014, when Martin Schulz supported Juncker the night the results came out.
For the French government, however, the Spitzenkandidaten process was dead and buried, as Macron’s arguments had finally borne fruit.
“The Spitzenkandidaten system is a farce: it is partitocracy rather than democracy. It necessarily favours one of the two largest parties in the European Parliament, which are dominated by Germans,” said geopolitician and French political scientist Zaki Laïdi.
“We have noted that the Spitzenkandidaten process is not an automatic one,” the French president rejoiced, dealing the process one final blow.
Unlike Germany, France wants a strong Commission
Implicitly, the French president also denounced “those who do not want candidates for the European Commission presidency who would be capable of overshadowing them,” clearly targeting Chancellor Merkel, whose country has always supported average candidates to prevent the European executive from getting in the way.
“It is Europe’s largest executive body. It must fully play its part and be strong,” Macron said, calling for a president of the European Commission “who supports a Europe that is as strong as possible.” For the French president, the key is to have the most charismatic and the most competent candidate.
Macron recalled that the candidate’s main asset would be the ability to gather the majority around him or her.
However, there is no consensus about any of the candidates, with the exception of Michel Barnier, who did not officially campaign but has just spent the last two years travelling to all European capitals to win the 27 for his Brexit agreement.
And if reaching unanimity in the European Council may seem complicated, it is nothing compared to the European Parliament, where the 751 MEPs all follow very different approaches.
On Tuesday, the former French ambassador to the EU, Pierre Vimont, told a debate with the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) think-tank that “the new Parliament risks being difficult to manage, even being blocked” because of the fragmented political forces and the lack of a majority.
A coalition programme will have to be agreed on in order to find common bases.
“The coalition programme is becoming a reality of European politics; finding agreements on a programme will become essential, particularly in order to resist the push of the extreme right,” asserted the diplomat.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]