The elections for the European Parliament will take place next year. The parliamentary majority will get to decide, through vote, who will be the next president of the Commission. The deal, however, is not that simple.
In 2019, the President will be appointed, as it has been until now, according to the negotiations in the European Council. The Parliament will therefore vote a candidate resulted from a “small deal” between EU heads of government. The betting agencies have already opened their doors.
Germany seems determined to take the Presidency of the Commission in the next term. It is true that from the presidents of the Commission, only the first one, Walter Hallstein, was German. Other countries have had two or even three politicians who have occupied this position. Formally, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s desire is fully justified. In the years following the reunification, the years in which the European Community turned into the European Union, the years in which there was the massive expansion to the East and the Euro was set up; Germany seemed to refrain from assuming formal positions at the top of the European institutions.
Even so, Germany’s ability to influence decisions in Brussels and Strasbourg was at least as strong as its position within the Union. However, this influence was manifested through secondary or informal channels. The Selmayr scandal can be interpreted in this frame.
For a long time, some Member States feared Germany had too much power in the new European construction. It is this formal modesty of Germany that has provided confidence in the Union’s project.
At this point, facing Brexit, the weakening of Italy and Spain, and the many crises that have marked last years, this confidence is in danger.
So, to be well understood, the problem is not that the future president of the Commission is to be German, but that there is a fracture and a confrontation between a possible hegemonic position of Germany and the resentment of other states, especially France. And this is not a crisis of the Union in general, but a crisis of the trust of European citizens in the harmony between the Member States.
Recently, Merkel officially endorsed Weber as the spitzenkandidat. However, the German Chancellor did not say Weber would be the candidate she will support within the European Council. In other words, Merkel kept some room for maneuver.
If we look at the Commission’s presidents in the past 15 years, we will realize that they emerged from a compromise within the Council rather than as representatives of a strong nation.
Beyond the personal qualities, Juncker and Barroso were not backed by a strong state, and Prodi lacked the support of the most important European party. If we look at things this way, the entire history of the EU in the past 20 years is a series of compromises made in order to maintain an apparent balance.
It seems like Brexit was the trigger that will ruin this balance. Perhaps the Brits were not the most involved in the European integration, but they were certainly the factor that balanced the competition between France and Germany. Therefore, now it is not a surprise that the other candidate with real chances at the Commission’s presidency is the French Michel Barnier.
Brexit did not generate a crisis just in the relations between the United Kingdom and the rest of the Union. Brexit stimulated closing the ranks among the Visegrád Group and placed the European political correctness mantras under the question mark.
Brexit will also open a risky perspective of a Franco-German competition regarding the future of the Union. The hyperactive President Emmanuel Macron also forecasted this competition.
The golden years of the European Union were those of compromise, dialogue, and balance. If the European Union wants to stay united, coherent, and strong, then it must strategically avoid any type of divisions: between rich and poor, large and small, West and East. If you ask me, I believe the future president of the European Commission should be a conservative from an Eastern state.