European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering threw down the gauntlet yesterday (19 March) by proposing to EU leaders meeting in Brussels that the next president of the European Commission be appointed on 15 July.
In his speech, which traditionally opens EU summits, Pöttering proposed to formally appoint the next Commission president the day after the first meeting of the newly-elected European Parliament.
European elections are scheduled for 4-7 June throughout the EU, and the first meeting of the newly-elected assembly is to be held on 14 July.
The name of the candidate designated to replace José Manuel Barroso should be known as early as 18-19 June, ten days after the EU elections.
In Pöttering’s view, the Commission should assume its tasks in the course of 2009. “On 14 July, the newly-elected European Parliament will hold its constitutive part-session. No matter what, we want the election of the president of the Commission to take place on 15 July 2009. This election must reflect the outcome of the European elections. For this to happen, consultations between the Council Presidency and the European Parliament will be necessary,” the Parliament president stated in his speech.
The announcement seems to contradict a recent statement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said the appointment of the next Commission president should take place after the second Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum, expected in October (EURACTIV 03/03/09).
Pöttering added: “The EP has made its position very clear. The Council position is not clear at all. We have uncertainties because of the Lisbon Treaty, and that gives rise to a lot of difficulties. And we, the EP, feel that we have to create a situation which provides transparency, clarity. And I hope the European Council, which meets in June – I think 18-19 June – will make a proposal. And we hope that there will be consultations before a candidate is put forward at the summit,” Pöttering said.
Asked whether the short notice was intended to help the re-appointment of current Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who – like Pöttering – hails from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Parliament president said: “I don’t want to talk about people, and I’m not the president of the EPP. I want to talk about procedures […] and that’s why we need to have a timetable on how to proceed. And the first solid pillar of this procedure is the election of the president of the European Commission.”
But he admitted that EU leaders were already discussing “people who may be available to become president of the Commission”. While there are not many names, he added, the short notice should not be an obstacle if there was enough political will. Besides Barroso, the name of Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, leader of the European Socialists, has emerged as a candidate for the top job. As an unwritten rule, the political family that wins the European elections gets the position of Commission president.
In the meantime, Pöttering lamented the British Tories’ decision to leave the EPP group in the Parliament. With this decision, Britain’s Conservative prime-minister-in-waiting, David Cameron, could become responsible for returning the Socialists to power in the EU assembly (EURACTIV 12/03/09).