Merkel and Macron disagree over choices for EU top jobs

EPA-EFE//OLIVIER MATTHYS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron during bilateral meeting on the side of a special EU summit in Brussels, 28 May 2019.

Merkel and Macron disagree over choices for EU top jobs


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Two days after the elections, heated discussions between the leaders of the EU’s 28 members are in full swing over who will succeed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with evident opinion clashes between the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the French president, Emmanuel Macron.

Discussions are also focusing on Donald Tusk‘s successor to lead the European Council, Antonio Tajani at the European Parliament, foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and European Central Bank head, Mario Draghi.

With the European Parliament’s main political groups and the EU’s leaders playing decisive roles in the decision-making process, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Emmanuel Macron are openly at odds with one another about who will be named to the European Union’s top jobs.

Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s leaders must take into account the outcome of the results of the election and after an initial meeting between the Chamber of Presidents in the European Parliament.

Talks between the European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the Greens have been inconclusive over their inability to agree on who the top candidate for the Commission will be.

The EPP and the PES hope to preserve the Spitzenkandidaten system that was initially used in 2014 to elect Juncker. That process refers to the lead candidate of a party. Before the campaign season begins, each party on the European level can publicly announce who their transnational candidate will be, thereby informally making them the face of the party’s election bid. The lead candidate, or  Spitzenkandidat in German, who can secure a majority governing coalition in the European Parliament will become the Commission’s president if approved by the European Council.

At the time Juncker was elected, the EPP and S&D had secured a majority coalition between the two of them and were able to select the new Commission president with ease. This year’s process, however, has not gone as smoothly.

The EPP’s chosen candidate, Germany’s Manfred Weber, secured the support of his party’s leaders, but Macron flatly ruled out supporting Weber’s candidacy and instead pushed for Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Macron also lambasted the Spitzenkandidat process, saying, “I do not want to debate the names, but the plans and priorities for their appointments,” said Macron.

In contrast to Macron, Merkel said, “as a member of the EPP, I will obviously work to support the candidacy of Manfred Weber.” If, however, none of the three official candidates secures a majority, more personalities could come as names on the table.

Barnier is an obvious choice for Macron. He is a viable candidate who could secure a majority and who enjoys the backing of even leftist politicians within the coalition. He is, however, not the first choice for many of the more stridently anti-capitalist wing of the political family, including Spain’s Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his left-wing counterpart, Portugal’s Antonio Costa.

Surprisingly, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who is fighting for his political life after his leftist SYRIZA party was trounced in the European elections, also said he will support “the candidate who comes first in the votes among progressive candidates, adding that his preference was for Timmermans as he would be a progressive and beneficial choice, while Weber “cannot unite the EU. He will only divide it and he is identified with extremely conservative and neo-liberal choices.” According to Tsipras, Weber would threaten Greece’s interests and the interests of the EU’s southern nations.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is staunchly against Weber’s candidacy and who recently called the latter “weak” flatly refused to endorse or even discuss Weber’s candidacy. Timmermans, however, is also a non-option for Orban and his ideological in the Visegrad Four – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary – due to Timmerman’s hard stance against the group of former Eastern Bloc countries backtracking on the rule of law and anti-immigrant policies.

Current World Bank Director Kristalina Georgieva could be a possible alternative choice to lead the Commission. Though she has never headed a government, her resume resembles that of several candidates, including Weber’s, which could put Georgieva in the position to be an acceptable out-of-the-box choice.

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