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Herman’s checklist: finding a balance for the EU’s top jobs

9157497455_724ede816a_h - UPDATEDA big week, and a careful balancing act

This time next week, Angela Merkel will be celebrating her sixtieth birthday – and short of anything better to cheer, the rest of the European Council will probably be celebrating the end of the gruelling quinquennial EU top jobs race.

Tuesday (15 July) sees the election of the new President of the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker does not quite have his feet under the desk yet, but the ‘grand coalition’ that held for Martin Schulz’s election as President of the European Parliament is expected to hold and see Juncker made President-elect.

And then, on Wednesday, the rest of the pieces of the top jobs jigsaw are expected to be put into place.

The European Council, denied a backroom deal over the Commission presidency, can (more or less) get back to old ways with its selection of a new President of the European Council and a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (although the choice for the latter position is one for leaders to take with the President-elect). A new permanent president for the Eurogroup (finance ministers of eurozone countries) is also expected to be named.

Striking a balance

The fact that the nominations will be made away from the public glare does not dramatically simplify the task. Herman Van Rompuy knows he will have to oversee a careful balancing act – or more likely, solve a political Rubik’s Cube – before the nominees can be paraded before the media (or tweeted about).

Political allegiance, gender, north-south balance and east-west balance, and even age, are among the key points on Herman’s checklist. And with two men approaching sixty years old from towns less than 200km apart already in situ, there is some rebalancing to be done. So how will it all play out?


Centre-right leaders hold a numerical advantage in the European Council, and in the European Parliament, strengthening their negotiating hand in the discussions over the top jobs.

The European People’s Party has already said that it wants the European Council presidency – the other top-tier job along with the Commission presidency – and wants the Eurogroup presidency, too.

This would leave the Socialists with the High Representative job, and the European Parliament presidency, which is more-than-ever a ‘top job’ given its role in negotiations (particularly in Germany) over Juncker’s nomination.

The Socialists, however, will probably feel that given their strength in the European Council (ten leaders at present) and their support for Juncker, they deserve the European Council presidency, judging the Parliament presidency and the High Representative job small reward for their part in the ‘grand coalition’.

And what of the Liberals? The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, has been touted as a possible European Council President, and this could be a reward (albeit a large one) for providing extra stability to the grand coalition.

But it is the EPP that holds the best cards to take the European Council presidency: they have more seats at the table, and (if all goes as planned) will have already secured the Commission job by the time of Wednesday’s summit. They can afford to play hardball if necessary.


The need for a woman to fill a top job led to Catherine Ashton’s unexpected elevation to the role of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in 2009, but the field of women candidates is wider and more promising this time (at least for the top jobs – the hunt for sufficient women nominees for the Commission is another story).

For the Party of European Socialists, Federica Mogherini, the 41-year old Italian foreign minister, is the latest hot tip to be High Representative, and is seen as a bringer of generational change, too. Kristalina Georgieva (EPP, Bulgaria), who is the current Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, could be in line for another lengthy title as Ashton’s successor.

With no immediately obvious female candidates for the Eurogroup presidency, a couple of women are also in contention to succeed Herman Van Rompuy. Helle Thorning-Schmidt has denied an interest in the European Council presidency, but remains in the frame. Although only recently re-elected as Lithuania’s President, Dalia Grybauskaitė would be an interesting choice, given her independent (but right-leaning) status and the fact she comes from one of the post-2004 accession countries.


Much more so than in 2009, there is a need for an ‘Eastern European’ (in the convenient but not entirely correct shorthand) to take one of the top jobs.

Five years ago, Jerzy Buzek took the Parliament presidency, while the rest of the top jobs went to countries that had joined the European Union before it was even known by that name. This time, surely, it has to be different?

With most of the countries that joined the EU since 2004 still outside the single currency, and others only recent arrivals, the Eurogroup presidency seems unattainable.

For the High Representative position, however, there are a number of candidates – as well as Georgieva, the centre-right Polish Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, is a leading contender (although the recording and publication of his private thoughts by a Polish magazine may have harmed his chances).

Sikorski’s Slovakian counterpart, seasoned diplomat Miroslav Lajčák, is an independent in a centre-left government. He is another possible contender – although none of these candidates necessarily represent the shift in ideas and age that is apparently desired by EU leaders.

For the European Council presidency, Grybauskaitė is the stand-out candidate from central and Eastern Europe, although Donald Tusk (Poland’s PM) and Valdis Dombrovskis (a former Latvian PM, now an MEP and nominated to the next Commission) are other contenders from the centre-right.

In the absence of a strong centre-left contender from the region, a Liberal, Andrus Ansip, may also be in contention. Like Dombrovskis, he is a former PM (of Estonia), a current MEP, and a nominee to the next Commission.

As well as east-west balance, a north-south balance needs to be struck. Mediterranean countries are particularly keen to be represented. Spain’s Economy Minister, Luis de Guindos Jurado, is a leading contender to chair the Eurogroup, with Mogherini in the mix for the High Representative role. Failing either of these, Enrico Letta, who was Italy’s prime minister until earlier this year, is a possibility for the European Council role.


And if Juncker doesn’t get elected?

Everything here is based on the ‘grand coalition’ holding firm, and Jean-Claude Juncker winning the support of 376 MEPs to take the Commission presidency.

However, while the EPP (except, perhaps, for its Hungarian delegation) is on board, some Socialists remain unconvinced and the Liberals will decide only on Monday whether to back Juncker. The Greens are split and the Parliament’s other groups opposed.

Juncker should get over the line, but perhaps more out of respect for the process than enthusiasm for the candidate. If Juncker is not approved, there is a new headache: does the European Council, searching for a replacement within the one month period allowed under the treaties, go to Martin Schulz (as some would expect, as the second-placed lead candidate), or cast the net wider.

In any case, there would almost certainly be no new name on 16 July – and no other top jobs doled out either.

But if he does win the vote…

The solution to this complicated, multi-dimensional jigsaw, should become clear next week.

The speculation, the rumours and the horse-trading over the top jobs will be over (although there is the not insignificant matter of nominations to the Commission – and striking the same balances there – to address, too).

Ten possible scenarios for the top jobs are set out below (based on the assumption that Jean-Claude Juncker is elected, joining Martin Schulz as an occupant of one of the key posts).

Please feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments box.

Scenario 1                    EPP 2     PES 2     Ind 1          3     2

President of the European Council: Grybauskaitė 

High Representative: Mogherini PES 
Eurogroup President: De Guindos EPP 

Scenario 2                    EPP 2     PES 2     ALDE 1          4     1

President of the European Council: Ansip ALDE 

High Representative: Mogherini PES 
Eurogroup President: De Guindos EPP 

Scenario 3                    EPP 3     PES 2          4     1

President of the European Council: Tusk EPP  or Dombrovskis EPP 

High Representative: Mogherini PES 
Eurogroup President: De Guindos EPP 

Scenario 4                    EPP 2     PES 2     ALDE 1          4     1

President of the European Council: Rutte ALDE 

High Representative: Mogherini PES 
Eurogroup President: De Guindos EPP 

Scenario 5                    EPP 2     PES 3          3     2

President of the European Council: Thorning-Schmidt PES 

High Representative: Georgieva EPP 
Eurogroup President: Dijsselbloem PES  or Moscovici PES 

Scenario 6                    EPP 3     PES 2          3     2

President of the European Council: Thorning-Schmidt PES 

High Representative: Georgieva EPP 
Eurogroup President: De Guindos EPP 

Scenario 7                    EPP 2     PES 2     ALDE 1          4     1

President of the European Council: Letta PES 

High Representative: Georgieva EPP 
Eurogroup President: Rehn ALDE 

Scenario 8                    EPP 3     PES 2          4     1

President of the European Council: Thorning-Schmidt PES 

High Representative: Sikorski EPP 
Eurogroup President: De Guindos EPP 

Scenario 1                    EPP 2     PES 2     Ind 1          4     1

President of the European Council: Grybauskaitė 

High Representative: Sikorski EPP 
Eurogroup President: Dijsselbloem PES  or Moscovici PES 

Scenario 10         EPP 2     PES 2     Ind 1          4     1

President of the European Council: Grybauskaitė 

High Representative: Lajčák PES 
Eurogroup President: De Guindos EPP