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 lead candidate for the European women's campaign - the 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 the no man's land of candidates, today only one name emerges to take the helm of the European Commission. Provided he wants it, and that France wants it, it's Michel Barnier. It meets on paper a number of criteria.

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 in the European elections, despite a certain decline. And the EPP has understood for a long time that it is the European Commission which is the most powerful post.

2° He is a convinced European, with real experience, in different positions. Representative of the Commission at the European Convention prelude to the Constitution, Commissioner for Regional Policy then for 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. If 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 certain licensed Liberals and undoubtedly more 'social' than other avowed social democrats.

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

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

6° It remains to be seen whether France and Emmanuel Macron, the sole decision-maker in terms of appointing 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 up the two blocs, showing that he can get rid of bipartisanship. Internally, he would not tap into the reserves of 'politician leadership' which the latest reshuffling has shown are 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), that is almost 25 years ago, a generation (2). The only notable competition could come from Berlin (3).

The only obstacle that some could see, 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 being, who has no other ambition before him than to succeed in his mandate, than to have a younger, more spirited person 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).