Before all of the European election ballots have been counted and all of the new Members of the European Parliament seen their names in the official results, the EPP Group has already rushed to elect its Chair and Vice-Chairs for the new legislative term. The elections were held on June 5th.
Manfred Weber has been re-elected Chair of the Group, along with ten Vice-Chairs.
The EPP is the first Group to go through the election process for the top representatives in the Parliament and has done so with questionable haste. The Greens will elect their Chair/vice-chairs on 12 June, while the S&D, ALDE, and the ECR will hold their elections between 18-19 June.
Too fast, too insecure
The swiftness with which the EPP Group election was carried out suggests that not only has Weber given up on the idea of being European Commission President but that he was afraid new power centres could emerge in the next few days that could have cost him the Group Presidency as well.
The EPP maintains that it “always elects its presidency around that time after the European elections, 5 years ago it was the same, but it does show that the EPP group is organised and united.”
The EPP’s one red line
What is certain is that while the EPP as a pan European political party is willing to negotiate and compromise to achieve a stable coalition that will govern Europe for the next five years – their red line, however, is the European Commission Presidency, that they will not give up at any cost.
While the EPP Group in the European Parliament stands behind Weber (the Group’s previous and current Chairman after all), and most EPP heads of state have in statements shown support for him, the reality is that Weber’s re-election as party chair does not give him more power in the negotiations, but less.
With the current balance of power in the Council and the Parliament, Weber should have been stepping away from his political party aura, and assuming that of a leader who can talk and compromise with all of the parties involved; not be seeking re-election as Group chair.
The scenario for a transitional (Spitzen) President
For the time being, there is only one way in which a Spitzen candidate can be European Commission President: If Jean-Claude Juncker can stay on for a while longer. Juncker, after all, was actually a Spitzen candidate – and is definitely more so than Michel Barnier (who lost one Spitzen race to Juncker already in 2014), and Magrethe Vestager (who was never a Spitzen candidate at all).
Of course, this would not be a solution for the Spitzen system to be saved (it’s sadly too late for that), but rather a delaying tactic so that a serious contender for the European Commission – an EPP contender that no one will be able to refuse, will arise. It’s all a matter of timing.
Interestingly, Juncker himself has already warned of the simultaneous expiration of his mandate with the Brexit deadline. After in April the second extension was granted to the UK’s outgoing prime minister, Theresa May, Juncker prophetically said: “We agreed to postpone Brexit until October 31. Since I’m supposed to finish its mandate prior to November 1, so I very much hope that on October 31, we will not sit until the morning, otherwise I will have to leave the meeting at midnight.”
If Kassandra’s scenario plays out, Juncker may have to sit out that whole meeting after all.
Que sera sera…