As EU leaders gathered for the European Council on 30 June, they failed to reach a deal on the EU’s top jobs. The European People’s Party (EPP) refused the plan developed by EU leaders on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Japan’s Osaka that would have installed a Social Democrat, Frans Timmermans, as the next Commission president. This can be understood as the plan which envisioned the long-dominant EPP give up the presidencies of the Commission and the European Council (in this case, to liberal leaders such as Belgian PM Charles Michel), while retaining only the Presidency of the European Parliament (to give it to EPP’s Manfred Weber) and the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs.
On 2 July, EU leaders met again in Brussels. As a reminder, the potential next President of the European Commission must receive the support of at least 21 Member States representing 65% of the European population. After that, he or she still must get an absolute majority of 376 out of 751 seats in the European Parliament. However, this is still a very difficult puzzle to solve. Traditionally the function of the Presidency of the European Commission is reserved for the biggest group in the European Parliament, which has always been the EPP. Since the introduction of the Spitzenkandidaten process, the European Parliament even tried to institutionalize the nomination of the President of the European Commission. However, it is still the European Council that determines who gets the most preferred job of the European Union.
The candidate of the EPP, Manfred Weber, did not have enough support, even within his own party. Most of the criticism was directed towards his lack of executive experience. Therefore, from the very beginning there were already a lot of alternative names mentioned, like Chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, but also German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a possible successor of Jean-Claude Juncker. This, however, forms a big problem because the EPP, who is in favor of the Spitzenkandidaten system, undermines the system itself.
As already mentioned, Angela Merkel’s plan to present the Social Democrat Frans Timmermans as the new President of the European Commission did not work. Indeed, the plan was refused by her own party and senior EPP members who blamed her for “giving up too easily”. Also, some eastern European countries, like Poland, opposed Timmermans for he had criticized these countries a lot because of their lack of democracy and rule of law. As part of Merkel’s failed deal, Manfred Weber would have become the President of the European Parliament for 5 years. The EPP could also claim the position of the High Representative to save Weber’s reputation. As discussions are still ongoing at the European Council on who will become the next “big 5”, the future of the European Union remains unclear. The battle for EU’s top jobs is still raging in Brussels.