Brussels – This week’s European parliamentary elections will launch a scramble for the continent’s top leadership jobs, but won’t decide the winners.
Unlike in the case of national elections, the party with the biggest number of seats after the vote may not be named head of the EU executive.
Instead the new president of the European Commission will be nominated by the leaders of the 28 EU member states, after at least two summits.
The leaders may choose to take into account the names chosen by the parliamentary blocs as their so-called “spitzenkandidaten” — or not.
In any case, the election seems likely to weaken the main groups in Strasbourg, and make it harder for the centre-right EPP to push its choice.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will back EPP candidate Manfred Weber, but French President Emmanuel Macron opposes the whole process.
And whether Weber, another candidate or someone from outside the election process is chosen will emerge only after closed-door politicking.
This will begin two days after the first election result on Tuesday, when the leaders will hold a one-night dinner summit in Brussels.
Afterwards, host Donald Tusk — president of the EU Council — will craft their musings into a list of nominees to be hopefully approved in late June.
The leaders will choose a director of the European Central Bank, a head of foreign policy, speaker of parliament and presidents of Commission and Council.
– Candidates sidelined? –
Macron and indeed most of the other leaders are loathe to cede the power granted them by the EU treaty to choose the top jobs.
But there is still one democratic lock — appointments must be ratified by parliament; at least 376 of the 751 members.
If the leaders agree on the names at their June 20 to 21 summit, the new parliament could vote in July.
When the outgoing Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, was promoted in 2014, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden objected.
But Germany’s Merkel backed down and allowed her fellow EPP member through after a media campaign accused her of “betraying democracy”.
Now, France’s Macron is the most stern opponent of the spitzenkandidat process, and he insists he will not back Weber however well the EPP polls.
– Game of Thrones –
While it is expected to remain the biggest single grouping, the EPP’s long dominance of the Brussels’ top job may be coming to an end.
The centre-right group has been in a marriage of convenience with the centre-left Socialists and Democrats to share the posts.
But — with populist eurosceptics, Greens and liberal centrists expected to make gains — the main parties will not have a working majority.
This will oblige them to look for coalitions, and could leave the Greens or the liberal group in a position to play kingmaker.
If parliament votes to confirm a new head of the EU Commission in mid-July, he or she will then put together a team of commissioners.
These will be given confirmation hearings, and then the parliament’s session on October will vote to confirm and they start work in November.
– Italian trio –
Three influential Italians will also be replaced this year, adding their posts to the mix when the horsetrading begins.
The director of the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, is due to move on, creating a prized opening.
Key facts on the European Parliament
The outgoing speaker of the Italian parliament is Antonio Tajani and the EU High Representative for foreign policy is Federica Mogherini.
These three posts are the gift of the leaders, and some will be traded, but there are certain political conditions.
The outgoing president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has made it clear he expects at least one to go to a woman.
And smaller countries and newer members will want to see geographical diversity respected.
By Christian Spillmann