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Who will lead the EU? – DW – 06/18/2024

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On Monday, heads of state and government of the 27 EU member states still had not agreed upon who should lead key EU institutions following last week’s European parliamentary elections. That said, it does look likely that the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen will secure a second five-year term of office. Her center-right party group, the European People’s Party (EPP), continues to hold most seats in the newly constituted European Parliament.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz left little doubt the 27 EU member states would nominate von der Leyen for this powerful position, following which he believed she would surely find support from the three main political groups leading the European Parliament — the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats and the liberal Renew Europe group.

“I believe it will be possible to quickly reach a reasonable solution, thanks to the fact that the political platform that has supported the president so far once again holds a majority in parliament,” Scholz said in Brussels.

EPP group leader Manfred Weber (left) and Ursula von der Leyen (right) celebrate following the European election Image: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Top jobs for the taking

The three party groups in the political center command a total of 406 seats in the European Parliament, meaning they have more than the 361 seats required for an absolute majority. In terms of numbers, von der Leyen does not require support from Europe’s growing right-wing populist and far-right camp. Ahead of the European parliamentary elections, von der Leyen had not ruled out working with right-wing nationalist MEPs, provided they held a pro-Ukrainian and pro-European stance.

Portugal’s former Prime Minister Antonio Costa (right) could succeed European Council President Charles Michel (center) Image: Yves Herman/REUTERS

Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and renewed candidate von der Leyen met on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Apulia, Italy, last week for preliminary talks to discuss EU top jobs.

This Monday, all 27 leaders “put their cards on the table” at an informal dinner at the European Council building in Brussels, according to EU diplomats. News soon emerged that Portugal’s former prime minister Antonio Costa was expected to become the next head of the European Council. Costa, a center-left Socialist, represents the bloc’s southern countries.

Estonia’s liberal Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, meanwhile, could become the new EU foreign policy chief, representing the bloc’s eastern member states. Christian Democratic Roberta Metsola, who currently serves as President of the European Parliament, could remain in office for another two-and-a-half years, representing smaller southern states in the EU.

New NATO leadership

The delicate balance between parliamentary party families and candidates’ geographical backgrounds will also be taken into consideration when selecting the new NATO Secretary-General. Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to secure this position in the fall as a representive of northern member states, provided Hungary and Romania can be persuaded to back him. Any decision on the matter must be reached unanimously.

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas may succeed Josep Borrell as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security PolicyImage: Gaetan Claessens/European Union

France hoping for more money

French President Macron, who played an instrumental role in installing von der Leyen as president of the EU Commission president five years ago, has taken a back seat this time. This is because the European Central Bank in Frankfurt am Main is headed by Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde and her term does not end until 2027. Macron, however, is seeking promises that that the new EU Commission will be more committed to common EU debt and loosen financial rules in return for agreeing to the new EU leadership, Italian media report.

It is unclear how much of this is true, however, as rumors abound. There should be clarity at the next regular EU summit. Substantive policy issues will be discussed there, and a kind of government program will be drawn up for the EU’s top leadership positions.

French President Macron (left) and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (center) support Roberta Metsola (right) remaning president of the European ParliamentImage: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture alliance

Urging greater decision-making haste, Danish Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen warned that “we are still in the middle of a war” in reference to Russia’s 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. “In my opinion, von der Leyen has done a good job,” she added. “We need a quick decision on everything that is going on in the world at the moment. I am confident this will work.”

German Chancellor Scholz also, expressed confidence that an agreement on the EU’s top jobs would be reached soon, as more pressing matters were at hand.

Italy seeks greater clout

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni says she wants to strengthen her country’s influence in the EU, especially as her right-wing nationalist party family, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), now holds 76 seats in the European Parliament. She met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the sidelines of the EU summit to discuss her right-wing conservative Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party forming a joint parliamentary group with Orban’s right-wing nationalist Fidesz party.

Meloni, however, has not yet suggested possible EU leaders. No Italian has been put forward for a top job. Meloni is instead calling for her country to be given an important position in the yet-to-be-formed EU Commission. She would like to see someone from her camp become vice-president of the institution, a role tasked with overseeing the bloc’s economy, industry and finance.

Slovakian President Peter Pellegrini, representing Prime Minister Robert Fico after he was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt during the election campaign, thinks eastern European states have been underrepresented when it comes to top EU jobs in recent years.

“I want to understand how Central and Eastern Europe are represented in the new personnel deal,” Pellegrini said. Neither Poland, Romania, nor Bulgaria have been slated to head any major EU institutions, one eastern European EU diplomat complained behind closed doors.

What to expect as dust settles on EU elections

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How much support is needed?

Ursula von der Leyen needs the approval of 20 of the EU’s 27 member states, which make up 65% of the EU population to secure a nomination by the Council as Commission President. This is known as a reinforced qualified majority. Judging by signals sent out by the Council, von der Leyen should be able to secure these numbers.

A new EU foreign policy chief would also need this qualified majority to take office. Requirements are less demanding for the president of the European Council, who requires the approval of 15 states and 65% of the population.

While talks are ongoing over who will become the next European Parliament president, it is the legislative body that selects its own president by absolute majority. But as always, all political decisions within the EU are interconnected. Only when all candidates for the four top jobs have been selected will an announcement be made.

This article was translated from German.


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