Vulcan Insight

Race on for the European Commission Presidency

31 May 2019

The race for the top jobs in the European Institutions has begun. The special summit of the European Council was held in Brussels on Tuesday – the first meeting where leaders tried to push their preferences for the top job in the executive branch of the European Union. Manfred Weber, supported by Angela Merkel, is the Spitzenkandidat for the Conservative European People’s Party (EPP). The self-confessed ‘man of parliament’ does not have enough experience to lead the most powerful institution of the EU according to some national leaders. Weber’s lack of executive experience is perhaps most noticeable in contrast to the man he hopes to succeed: Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who served on the European Council for 19 years as Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

French President Emmanuel Macron thinks the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier should be under consideration for the European Commission top job. “Undeniably, Michel Barnier is a man who has great qualities and he demonstrated this once again in the way he handled negotiations with the British,” Macron told Belgian newspaper Le Soir. Macron shared what he thinks should be “important criteria” for the next Commission President, among them “experience at the highest governmental level or European Commission level.” This would no doubt rule out Manfred Weber. The European Union’s deputy chief Brexit negotiator, Sabine Weyand, who has served under Michel Barnier was named the bloc’s top civil servant for trade policy in a move that represents a small piece in the puzzle over new appointments to EU leadership posts. This may signal a move away from the Article 50 Task Force dealing with UK matters and thus freeing up Barnier to lead the European Commission.

Frans Timmermans, a former Dutch Foreign Minister and current first Vice President of the European Commission, has increased his chances of getting the top job after Social Democrats across Europe exceeded expectations in last week’s elections, especially in his native Netherlands. Timmermans, who speaks six languages, is best known for his defence of the rule of law against Eurosceptic governments in Poland, Hungary and Romania. The leading figure behind the ‘Plastics Strategy’ has been outspoken in the area of climate change, including taking a shot at Donald Trump “and his idiocy on climate change”. He is also seen as a plausible candidate to be EU Foreign Affairs chief.

One of the most powerful women in the European commission is Danish Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager. Best known for taking on Apple, Amazon and Google, she wants to be the first woman to lead the EU Commission. Vestager was the Danish Economy Minister and, as a Liberal, she was long thought to be a favourite of Macron. But the French President has cooled on her since she ruled against a merger of France’s Alstom and Germany’s Siemens, a tie-up both governments deemed necessary in the face of Chinese competition. In the past few days, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has given a strong signal that Copenhagen would push for Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to take the EU’s top job. Rasmussen, who has previously been quiet on his old political sparring partner Vestager, described her as “the best candidate” to succeed Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, ahead of an informal summit of EU leaders Tuesday.

The Commission President is the top job in the European Union but Member States will be eyeing other positions within the bundle of jobs on offer. European Council President, European Parliament President, European Central Bank President and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission are all up for grabs. For more information on the timeline for these top jobs please follow the link: