EU bodies square up for leadership battle

Will Jean-Claude Juncker get Europe’s top job?

Senior eurocrats predict a power struggle between the European Council and the European Parliament in the search to elect the next President of the European Commission.

Over the next few weeks the 28 heads of state and government making up the Council must agree on a candidate by a qualified majority, who should then be approved by the European Parliament in a vote.

The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Council must nominate a candidate, taking into account the election results, so that the views of the European voters are taken into consideration.

Thus the European Parliament concluded that the lead candidate of the political bloc that won the most seats in the recent elections – in this case Jean-Claude Juncker of the European People’s Party – should logically get the job.

“This is in stark contrast with the way it had always been done before; that is, taking the decision behind closed doors, with no transparency,” Bjorn Kjellstrom, head of the European Parliament Office in the UK explained to Embassy magazine (to see the interview please click here).

Juncker’s rivals, the centre-left Socialist group, have also backed him, indicating that the European Parliament is ready to flex its muscles and raise the stakes over the choice of candidate for the EU’s most high-profile job.

But EU leaders in the Council are only obliged to choose a candidate from the EPP family, and there appears to be strong resistance to Mr Juncker in some quarters, notably Prime Minister David Cameron, who regards the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg as an old-style European federalist.

Cameron has drawn around him a cluster of leaders from countries such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and some in Eastern Europe and the Baltics who share Britain’s concerns and would prefer to choose their own candidate rather than having one foisted on them by Parliament. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s official backing of Juncker seemed ambivalent.

“So the Parliament has its view; the Council perhaps has a slightly different view, and we at the Commission will be interested observers,” EU Commission Representative to the UK Jacqueline Minor told Embassy.

Other possible EPP nominees include outgoing Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk or Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny.

Leaders are likely to opt for a candidate who can demonstrate strong leadership in getting Europe’s ailing economy back on track.

Whoever the leaders choose, he or she will still have to be approved by a majority in parliament which, having gained powers under the Lisbon Treaty, will be in no mood to rubber stamp any decisions.

The go-between for the next few weeks will be EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who has received a mandate from the EU leaders to start consultations between the European Council and the European Parliament.