Nominations for presidency of European Commission: a test for EU governance? Op-Ed

Author: Mihai Mogîldea, IPRE Associate Expert

“The makeup and action plan of the future European Commission will have immediate repercussions for the Republic of Moldova. In the field of neighborhood and foreign policy, we will yet see the spending earmarked for the next budgetary instrument of 2021 – 2027 that is intended for the countries situated outside the EU. In the same context, it is expected that the future Commission will set new objectives and deliverables for the Eastern Partnership for the post-2020 period. On this dimension, the Commission’s emphases can be different depending on the personality, strategy, view and team of the future president of the European Commission”.

On June 20 – 21, Brussels hosted the Summit of the European Council that brought together the heads of state and government of the 28 EU Member States. The agenda of the Summit included discussions on the European Council’s nomination for the presidency of the European Commission and possible candidates for the posts of presidents of other three key institutions: European Parliament, European Council and European Central Bank.

At the end of the Summit, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced that they didn’t reach a decision about the proposed candidates that would be supported by most of the Member States. This way, a new round of consultations will be held on June 30, only two days before the first plenary sitting of the new European legislature in Strasbourg.

Given the multitude of players involved in the process of electing the future European leaders (pan-European political families, national governments and supranational institutions), these negotiations represent a test for the Spitzenkadidaten system, the control exerted by the Parliament on the Commission and the balance of power among the political groups of the European Parliament.

Elections to the European Parliament

The results of the European Parliament elections held on May 23 – 26 caused the equation of the election of the President of the European Commission to be more difficult. Before the elections, the candidates nominated by the European People’s Party (Manfred Weber) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (Franns Timmermans) were considered to be the favorites for this post, but the fragmentation of the vote of the European citizens enabled to include the third parliamentary group in this equation – Renew Europe (Margrethe Vestager).

More exactly, the distribution of seats in the European Parliament (fig. No.1), didn’t allow the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Social-Democrats (S&D) to negotiate the candidate for the presidency of the  Commission and Parliament without taking into account the position of Renew Europe. The EPP and S&D won together 335 seats in the new legislature, which is not enough for holding a simple majority that is needed for nominating the candidates agreed by these groups (376 votes). In this connection, the group led by Dacian Cioloș (Renew Europe), which is supported by the President of France Emmanuel Macron, has an important say in the negotiation process and can diminish the EPP’s advantage to get the most of seats of MEP as a result of the EP elections.

 

Spitzenkadidaten – (ir)relevant procedure?

The nomination of the President of the European Commission is an exercise for testing the formal and informal practices existing in Brussels. The formal practices refer to the provisions of Articles 17(6) and 17(7) of the Lisbon Treaty (2009), which say that the leader of the Commission is elected by a majority of MEP votes, while the European Council and the European Parliament are both responsible for the process prior to the vote. The informal practices refer to the Spitzenkandidaten procedure that is actively supported by the Parliament owing to the more extended prerogatives offered to the parliamentary groups.

The Spitzenkadidaten procedure at the post-Lisbon stage was introduced with the aim of consolidating the European Parliament’s role in choosing a candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. According to this procedure, instituted by a EP resolution (2012), the political group that wins the most of MEP seats can nominate the first its candidate for this post and seek support from the European Council.

From this angle, the results of this year’s elections offered the posture of Spitzenkadidaten to Manfred Weber, who heads the EPP Group in the European Parliament. Weber enjoys the support of Chancellor Angela Merkel (EPP) in the European Council, but is not supported by Emmanuel Macron (ALDE) or Pedro Sanchez (S&D). Moreover, the groups of the Socialists and Liberals in the European Parliament before the Summit of June 20-21 said they would not vote for Weber as President of the European Commission. In such conditions, there are slim chances for Weber to be nominated by the European Council fort this post and this will diminish the relevance of the Spitzenkadidaten procedure for the decision-making process of the EU. Also, this situation could influence the mechanisms of control over the Commission held by Parliament as regards the approval of the makeup of the College of Commissioners for 2019 – 2024.

In the absence of Weber, Michel Barnier (EPP), who is the EU’s chief negotiator for the Brexit and who was beaten by Juncker in the race for the nomination of the EPP candidate for the Commission’s presidency in 2014, has real chances of being proposed to Parliament for this post. Owing to his handling of the negotiations with the UK and his direct interaction with the Member States in the period, Barnier could gain the European Council’s vote of confidence as a compromise candidate. The Visegrad countries stated their support for the candidacy of Barnier as one of the options viable in the consultation process.

Beyond the discussions existing at present, the governmental experience of the suggested candidates seems to be an important differentiation criteria. During the past 20 years, after the constitution of the Prodi Commission, all the Presidents of the European Commissions had been heads of national governments. Therefore, the affiliation and governmental activity enabled them to interact directly with other members of the European Council and to secure their support. At the same time, the given appointments (Prodi, Barosso or Juncker) show the ratio of forces between the European Council and the European Parliament concerning the nomination of the President of the European Commission. Even if the influence of the pan-European parties at EU level continues to evolve, the Member States play a key role in the decision-making system in Brussels.

Instead of conclusions

The process of choosing and appointing European leaders is not at all easy. The interaction and dialogue between institution are and will be influenced by the political affiliation of the proposed candidates, their views about the future of Europe and the alliances between the Member States aimed at obtaining advantages by the vote for a particular candidate. Given the extended fragmentation of the vote in the EP elections, the negotiation margin of the EPP, restively of the S&D, is smaller compared with 2014. Therefore, the current centrist vote headed by Emmanuel Macron in the European Council, which is represented by the parliamentary group Renew Europe, can lead to the agreeing of a compromise candidate, like Barnier or Vestager.

Furthermore, the makeup and action plan of the future European Commission will have immediate repercussions for the Republic of Moldova. In the field of neighborhood and foreign policy, we will yet see the spending earmarked for the next budgetary instrument of 2021 – 2027 that is intended for the countries situated outside the EU. In the same context, it is expected that the future Commission will set new objectives and deliverables for the Eastern Partnership for the post-2020 period. On this dimension, the Commission’s emphases can be different depending on the personality, strategy, view and team of the future president of the European Commission.

Author: Mihai Mogâldea

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