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European Council, Commission, High Representative… The candidates for the 'top chef' of 2019?

(B2) At a time when the Brexit puzzle is ringing in everyone's minds, being interested in the possible faces of tomorrow's Europe seems illusory. “ It's way too early » several actors, diplomats and experienced observers of the European scene confided to me, whom I interviewed…

Donald Tusk at the European Council like Jean-Claude Juncker at the European Commission will leave the European scene. Who to replace them? (credit: Council of the EU)

And yet… everyone thinks about it! By June or July 2019, at the latest, a President of the European Commission must have been chosen. Which will trigger a cascade of choice of other European heads, starting with his alter ego, the President of the European Council, the President(s) of the European Parliament, as well as the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Policy (1) .

To the European Commission

The official suitor is Manfred weber, candidate of the European People's Party. He claims, if his party comes first in the European elections (as it always seems to be the case in the polls), to chair the European Commission. A logical destiny that comes up against three problems: some members of the European Council do not seem determined to promote this system of SpitzenKandidat; the man who has certain qualities does not correspond to the unwritten criteria for this position; he is the representative of a party, which can lead to certain divisions when voting in the European Parliament (read: What hides the candidacy of Manfred Weber to the Commission?). His natural destiny would therefore rather lead him to run for the presidency of the European Parliament.

The possible challenger is the French Michel Barnier which has for him many advantages, a profile well known to heads of state and government, as well as to the European Parliament, friendships and networks which go beyond his political chapel, a true European profile as we like them to Brussels (read: Michel Barnier as President of the European Commission?). Emmanuel Macron, the sole decision-maker in his soul and conscience regarding positions at the European Commission, still has to want it. If France 'wants the job', " it will be difficult to refuse him indicates a keen observer consulted by B2.

The candidacy of Margrethe Vestager, once mentioned (especially by some elements of La République en Marche), seems unrealistic... today. The Dane does not really have the support of her government, the first criterion for this position. She has the handicaps of her country, which does not participate in all European policies. Finally, she does not belong to the majority party (EPP) at the European level, since she belongs to the Danish social-liberal party (RV). Curtain… Read: The end of the Vestager dream at the head of the 2019 Commission?

The Presidency of the European Council

In the European Council, this is the name of Mark Rutte, which recurs regularly like an antiphon. The Dutch Prime Minister (Liberal) could resume the role of intercessor and moderator for heads of state and government. He still has to want to leave his national post... and the other heads of state and government have to want it. The role of whipping father of the Netherlands, whether in the monetary crisis on the role of the 'strong' Euro or vis-à-vis the countries of Eastern Europe, in indelicacy with certain chapters of the Rule of law, and its positioning, to say the least, a supporter of the slightest European commitment, could expose it to a few 'clear' or discreet vetoes, preventing it from any candidacy. Odds: 1 in 4.

A possible challenger is the Lithuanian Dalia Grybauskaite (-). A proponent of outspokenness, good knowledge of certain European issues - she managed the Agriculture portfolio - she has some advantages: being a woman, representing Eastern Europe, and not being part of a political party . Even if she is not very far from the Christian Democrats, she has often had to govern in cohabitation with a government made up of social democrats, peasants and greens. What could be more eclectic. In addition, she is available because her term as president (non-renewable) ends in May. In a way, she would embody a certain continuity with Donald Tusk. A fan of outspokenness, she always has the right word when she arrives at European Council meetings. Which ensures him a certain celebrity in the press. She still has to want to. The latest news is that the person concerned has denied being a candidate. But this kind of denial quickly gives way. Score: 2 out of 4.

Another possible candidate, the Finn Juha Sipila of the center party (Kesk / ALDE) could quickly find himself available if his party suffers a defeat in the legislative elections. He has the advantage of coming from a 'modest' country, located on the borders of Russia, therefore well aware of the risks and threats of the new configuration in Moscow, of being a member of the Euro and of having played a significant and positive role in the migration crisis. It is well seen in Paris as in Berlin, which is not a disadvantage. He is discreet, but very present in European games. Score: 2 out of 4.

Finally, the Belgian Charles Michel (Liberal / ALDE) is pointing its nose into the European sphere, as a 'spare wheel' for a possible non-renewal at the head of the Belgian government after the general elections next May. The daily article Le Soir expressly mentions this. Even if the Belgian Prime Minister has so far not shown any specific appetite for European issues, he is more interested in them than his predecessor Elio di Rupo. Although it may be hard to believe it, you should always be wary of Belgians when their eyes twitch. They have no equal when it comes to achieving their goals (see the precedent of Herman Van Rompuy). Score: 1 out of 4.

The post of head of European diplomacy

As High Representative of the EU, this is a total unknown. The potential candidates to succeed Federica Mogherini as High Representative on November 1st are no longer really jostling at the 'gate'. For several 'big' countries (France, Italy, Netherlands, etc.), the position is not really of interest, because the High Representative is too busy with foreign affairs, and not very available on 'economic' or domestic policy, primary competences of the European Commission. B2 took a tour of potential or possible candidates, in a paper weighing the advantages and handicaps of each (read: Commission 2019. The candidates for the post of High Representative are not rushing. Six possible and eventual names?).

The current German minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU/PPE) served his time at the head of German Defense. And the one who was, for a time, perceived as a possible rival of Angela Merkel no longer has hope in that regard. A new European future would allow it to bounce back into a field, European affairs, where it is comfortable and has obtained certain results. Slovak Miroslav Lajčak (S&D) would also not mind returning to the European sphere after its mandate as Chairman of the OSCE. But the more limited scope of Slovak diplomacy would further open up the position of a deputy commissioner/high representative, responsible for enlargement and the neighborhood. A Spanish candidate could also emerge, Josep Borrell (S&D) where applicable. But his age could be a serious handicap. And another Spanish woman could be chosen. Which corresponds to Madrid's desire to impose itself on the diplomatic scene.

A few challengers have been mentioned. But they don't really meet all the criteria. This is the case of the social-democrat SpitzenKandidat, Frans Timmermans who has the same handicap as Mr. Vestager: he is not supported by his government. The Belgian Didier Reynders (Liberal) could have been an excellent High Representative. But he announced this candidacy for the post of secretary general at the Council of Europe. The Swedish Margot Wallström (S&D) could also have emerged. She meets a good part of the criteria (experienced, social democrat and woman). But, as with Josep Borrell, his age could be a handicap. Unless we reprofile the position of High Representative in a more political and less globe-trotting dimension. Topic to follow…

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read our file No. 67. European elections 2019

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).

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