Joachim Fritz-Vannahme
28. May 2019

Who will be what in Brussels – a political fantasy

Everyone is talking about the future Commission president, everyone is looking at the top candidates of the three big party families, Germany’s Christian Democrat Manfred Weber from the European Popular Party (EPP), Dutch Social Democrat Frans Timmermans (the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats S&D) and the liberal Dane Margrethe Vestager (her family is the Alde Group).

The heads of government will certainly negotiate the Commission president’s post in a package with the other four top posts. In the weeks to come, the High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the Presidents of the European Council (previously Donald Tusk, who is not allowed to stand again), Parliament (previously the Italian Christian Democrat Antonio Tajani) and the Central Bank (previously the Italian Mario Draghi) will also give up their offices.

That leaves a lot of room for negotiation – you don’t have to rant about alleged backroom deals, especially since the names are public anyway.

When awarding the contracts, gender distribution will be taken into account as well as the geographical balance east/west and north/south and the strength of the three, four large party families. All in all, this makes three criteria for access to power.

First, the balance of power. In the Council there are currently 9 heads of government of the EPP, as many of the Liberals and 6 of the S&D. Ultimately, everyone has to agree – and the Polish and Hungarian governments must also be on board. Italy is also more unpredictable because the independent prime minister will take the powerful interior minister Matteo Salvini into consideration.

© Shutterstock / S-F

In Parliament, the EPP, the S&D, the Liberals/Alde and the Greens as a pro-European ensemble conquer 502 of the 751 seats. This looks more stable and powerful than it is because with such a range the difficult compromises are even more difficult.

The EPP and the S&D can secure the absolute majority together with the Liberals (with Macron’s Renaissance movement) (433 seats, the absolute majority is 376 votes) and would not be dependent on the Greens. Even without Macron’s deputies, 412 votes would be enough.

The EPP plus the S&D plus the Greens would make up for 395 seats.

A rainbow alliance of the S&D, the Liberals, the Greens and the Leftists, however, are clearly below with 344.

The first choice should be clear: The opening session of the new EP will take place on 2 July. Then the House will have to appoint its president.

Whether a top candidate will then be nominated as president of the Commission is doubtful at the moment. Juncker’s and Draghi’s mandates end on 31 October.

So there’s still time. A good moment to bring in a few names that meet the criteria mentioned.

The president of the European Council will not be Angela Merkel for she has rejected the post several times.

No, the president will be Dalia Grybauskaite. After ten years in office in her own country, the Lithuanian President is no longer allowed to stand as a candidate. She is held in high esteem in Warsaw, Berlin and Brussels (where she was an EU Commissioner before) and elsewhere and she brings a lot of experience with her, even in tough negotiations.

Therefore, the top post would go to a conservative woman from East Central Europe.

Post no. two would therefore have to go either to a liberal or to a social democrat. Any liberal who wants the deputies of President Emmanuel Macron’s to be in his family – for pros and cons see above – will have to offer him something. For example, the president of the Commission – who could be a lady president.

Margrethe Vestager, the Danish Competition Commissioner, would be the appropriate woman. Not only has she made life difficult for American Internet companies, but she has also shown her teeth to Germany and France in the cancelled merger between Siemens and Alsthom. This is a good thing in the eyes of small EU countries – and these are most of the 27 EU countries.

So two out of five posts would be filled by women.

Job no. three can also be distributed on a gender basis.

Until now, the EPP and the S&D took turns in the presidential chair of the European Parliament at mid-term of the legislative period. This will be more difficult in the future parliament, since the large party families no longer have an absolute majority. Every candidate therefore needs the support of a third party. This goes for Manfred Weber, too, who could perhaps share the chair with a female socialist from the south (Spain and Portugal would have suitable candidates) – or innovatively with a Green lady MEP from France.

Bidding for the post with the familiar double hat, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who is also vice-president of the Commission, will be more exciting. Dutch Frans Timmermans could well be trusted with this task. Yet Michel Barnier, Mister Brexit, former EU Commissioner and former French foreign minister, is a high-profile competitor.

Barnier’s relationship with Macron is not close, but objective and good. His country is persistently attributed to the south by Francophobic commentators, which means the cards are stacked against Timmermans. After all, he would travel on the socialist ticket. So let’s wait and see.

If, however, a Frenchman gets position no. 4, then the chances suddenly rise for the German Jens Weidmann as the future president of the European Central Bank. Europe’s largest economy would certainly welcome this, and the partners in the EU would hope that the German, just like his predecessors such as the Frenchman Trichet or the Italian Draghi, would certainly not pursue a policy in favour of his country of origin.

Two women, two men, two large countries and two smaller ones. North, east, middle and southwest, all well served. All just political fantasies?

 

 

 

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