By John Goodrich
As the dust settles on a dramatic set of European Parliament elections, leaders of European Union member states will gather for dinner in Brussels on Tuesday evening to begin what is likely to be lengthy discussions over the nominations for the bloc’s top jobs.
What’s next for the EU?
Contenders for the EU’s top jobs
The elections revealed a fragmented electorate, with smaller groupings gaining seats and the established centrist power blocs diminished. The grand coalition that has held sway over the bloc for 40 years has broken down, and change should follow. Now, compromises must be hammered out.
The battle for the top jobs, which include a replacement for Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president, Mario Draghi as European Central Bank president, Federica Mogherini as High Representative, Antonio Tajani as European Parliament president, and Donald Tusk as European Council president, is likely to be messy.
Tusk says he wants nominations for the leadership positions to be finalized by the next leaders’ meeting on June 20-21, but with tensions between the European Parliament and European Council over how candidates are selected as well as disagreements between the leaders of member states over who should be picked, the deliberations could be fraught.
The center-right European People’s Party (EPP), still the largest grouping despite the loss of 42 seats in the parliament, on Monday insisted its lead candidate, German Manfred Weber, should hold the Commission presidency – the groupings representatives currently dominate the top EU jobs.
A Social Democrat (S&D), Liberal and Green center-left tie-up will try to thwart that plan and may push current Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, a former deputy prime minister of Denmark, as an alternative. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose party is allied with the Liberal group, dined with Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Monday evening, and the pair will meet with liberal prime ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Charles Michel of Belgium, as well as Portugal’s Socialist leader Antonio Costa, on Tuesday.
An S&D, Liberal and Green alliance would have 323 seats in the parliament, dwarfing the 180 of the EPP. Liberals and Socialists make up 15 of the 28 leaders in the European Council. Macron is leading the opposition to Weber, the little-known EPP lead candidate who has no executive experience, and is opposed to the Spitzenkandidat process. Weber lost a key supporter on Monday when Sebastian Kurz was ousted as Austrian chancellor, but German leader Angela Merkel, also under pressure domestically, remains a backer.
The summit in Brussels, which will be attended by Hartwig Loger, the interim chancellor of Austria following the ousting of Kurz, and Theresa May, the outgoing British prime minister, is the first formal step in deliberations that will seek to find candidates that offer a party, geographic and gender balance to the leadership posts.
Talks are also underway over the composition of a new coalition in the European Parliament. The EPP and S&D lost a combined 87 seats – and with it their majority – in the elections, while the Liberals, Greens and populists all gained. A tricky four-way negotiation involving the pro-EU EPP, S&D, Liberals and Greens is likely.
A three-way option is also possible, but uncertainty over Brexit would make it vulnerable – if Britain leaves the EU, its 73 MEPs – including 37 from the four pro-EU groupings – will quit the parliament.