The upcoming European elections in June 2019 are casting a shadow on personnel policy. Will there be an ‘election campaign’ for the post of President of the EU Commission like in 2014?

GD/AD – 01/2018

In 2014, both major political camps, the Social Democrats and the Christian Socialists, surprisingly pushed for the ‘top candidate process’, that is, the unofficial election of the Commission President by EU citizens, despite the fact that the rules governing the European Parliament elections and appointing the Commission President (by the European Council) do not provide for this. This was done to present the power centres of the EU to voters in a more tangible fashion. Observers expect that this is likely to happen again in 2019. 

Names under discussion

According to media reports, various camps and interest groups have already named potential candidates. One of the names being mentioned is current Commissioner and Chief Negotiator for Brexit, Michel Barnier. Gaullist Barnier is an experienced diplomat and as a Frenchman would normally have the support of his country. However, it is alleged that Macron prefers Margrete Vestager, a Danish politician from the Social Liberal Party who is currently Commissioner for Competition in Brussels. Social democracy, which has been badly hit in recent elections in many EU Member States, is said to have a suitable candidate in Italian Federica Mogherini, the current High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Influential Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermanns, a social democrat, is also regarded as having a strong chance. IMF President, Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde, is considered to be one of the outside runners.  

Alliances could change

Some events, such as the parliamentary election in Italy coming up in a few months, could even contribute to structural changes in existing alliances. For example, the EPP might consider the respective national policies of some of its members to be incompatible with their European policy objectives. Controversial members of the EPP include Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà party (formerly Forza Italia) and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party. If Berlusconi gains renewed influence over Italian politics after the elections in spring, even if from behind the scenes, it could strengthen the populist direction of the party and lead to conflict with the EPP community. After all, Viktor Orbán’s politics are in many ways the direct opposite of CDU policy in Germany.  

A socially stable EU is crucial

Some observers also believe there will be a growing trend towards regional division – think of Catalonia, Corsica, Flanders and other such regions – in conjunction with populist strategies. Much will depend on whether the EU can truly mitigate the direct consequences for millions of fellow Europeans prior to the election or whether the course of vague political promises with little vision will continue. According to some experts, discussions about the ‘re-founding of Europe’ are problematic because the European Treaties would need to be amended. This also applies to creating new top positions at European level (an EU Finance Minister, etc), which under the current legal framework would have few competences. The majority of politicians are against such changes. These discussions are detrimental to a European Union that is striving for a future with social stability.