European Commission

Drapeaux européens devant le Berlaymont

With the Parliament elections over, the European Council will meet to decide how to interpret the results and which name to put forward to MEPs as the candidate for President of the Commission. 

Behind the scenes the role of European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, will be critical.

With the recent large increase in the European Commission’s powers over national budgets as a result of the economic crisis, the member states’ choice will be a vital one. Democratic legitimacy will be an important factor, and MEPs are unlikely to allow EU leaders to interpret the new rules too loosely. However, it is likely that member states – especially the larger countries – will prefer a ‘Barroso’ figure to a ‘Delors’ figure (although it could be argued that the Delors’ dynamism would be useful to the EU in the current circumstances).

Once nominated, the Parliament will vote. If the candidate fails to gain the support of more than half of all MEPs, the European Council will have one month to propose a new candidate. Last time, José Manuel Barroso overcame this threshold (even though it was not a formal requirement in 2009). With a significant rump of anti-establishment and Eurosceptic MEPs likely to be elected, there may need to be a ‘grand coalition’ to unite behind a candidate, thereby avoiding a (perceived) crisis and allowing the new President time to build a team.

The EPP, PES and ALDE Party will nominate their candidates for Commission President at their congresses. However, the European Greens are planning an online ‘open primary’ to decide on their candidate. José Bové, a French MEP and anti-globalisation candidate, has already put himself forward.

From the EPP, possible candidates include Mr Barroso, Viviane Reding (currently a Vice-President of the Commission), Jyrki Katainen (the Finnish Prime Minister) and Enda Kenny (the Irish Prime Minister).

From the PES, the current President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, is currently the strongest contender. The ALDE candidate seems set to be Guy Verhofstadt, the Leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament and a former Belgian Prime Minister.