Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

Michel Barnier as President of the European Commission?

(B2) Even if the European People's Party (EPP) has just appointed today in Helsinki its head of list for the European campaign - Bavarian CSU MEP Manfred Weber -, nothing says that it will be this one who will be at the head of the European Commission next November (1).

The automatism desired by the various party leaders during the previous campaign in 2014 is broken. From a no man's land of candidates, today there is only one name emerging to take the helm of the European Commission. Provided he wants it, and France wants it, it's Michel Barnier. It brings together a number of criteria on paper.

Michel Barnier in the corridors of the European Council meeting with President Donald Tusk (Credit: Council of the EU)

1° It belongs to the party, the EPP which should remain the leading party during the European elections, despite a certain decline. And the EPP has long understood that it is the European Commission which is the most powerful position.

2° He is a convinced European, with real experience, in different positions. Representative of the Commission during the European Convention prelude to the Constitution, Commissioner for Regional Policy then the Internal Market, and last but not least, EU negotiator for Brexit, he showed a certain dexterity in these different positions.

3° He is not a divisive character. Although he belongs to the EPP, he has shown in the past that he knows how to dialogue with all the components of the European family. He is a very acceptable candidate whether by the liberals, the social democrats or the greens. He is more in favor of European integration than some registered Liberals and undoubtedly more 'social' than other declared social democrats.

4° He is not a member of the European Council, has not been Prime Minister or leader. This is undoubtedly one of the only (unwritten) criteria that is not met. Well, not quite full. As a negotiator on Brexit, he has been invited to the European Council on several occasions and has met a number of European leaders who know him or have gotten to know him. In short, he is not unknown to the European ruling house.

5° He showed, throughout the negotiation on Brexit, difficult, arduous, where pitfalls multiplied as others disappeared, his ability to negotiate, to keep Europeans united.

6° It remains to be seen whether France and Emmanuel Macron, the sole decision-maker regarding the appointment of a European commissioner, would like to push a French candidate to head the Commission. It wouldn't be absurd. E. Macron would continue his work of breaking the two blocs, showing that he can get rid of bipartisanship. Internally, he would not draw on the reserves of 'political responsibility' which the last reshuffle proved were not unlimited. If the will exists in Paris, it would be difficult for other countries to criticize such a choice. The post of President of the Commission has not been entrusted to a Frenchman since Jacques Delors (1985-1995), almost 25 years ago, a generation (2). The only notable competition could come from Berlin (3).

The only obstacle that some might see is his age, 67 years old... But next to Juncker, 63 years old, he seems younger and more dashing. At the helm of Europe today and tomorrow, it is better to have a wise, experienced person, who has no other ambition before him than to succeed in his mandate, than to have someone younger, more spirited or whose ambition dominates certain decisions (so as not to upset the future).

Yes, definitely, Michel Barnier would be the right choice for the future European executive in the years to come…

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) Read: What hides the candidacy of Manfred Weber to the Commission?

(2) The position was then successively occupied by a Luxembourger (Jacques Santer), an Italian (Romano Prodi), a Portuguese (José-Manuel Barroso, for two terms) and, again, a Luxembourger (Jean-Claude Juncker) .

(3) Relatives of Angela Merkel had made known, through leaks to the press, their desire to see a German placed at the head of the Commission.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).