Sunday

18th Feb 2018

Focus

Centre-right leaders to pick top EU commission candidate

  • Angela Merkel is the only woman leader in the centre-right EPP family (Photo: European People's Party)

European centre right leaders are gathering in Dublin on Thursday and Friday (6-7 March) to select their top candidate for the post of European Commission President.

With the Ukraine crisis taking over the EU agenda and an EU emergency summit on the issue taking place on Thursday in Brussels, the Dublin congress of the European People's Party (EPP) is only due to start later this evening (6 March).

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Ukrainian opposition leaders Yulia Tymoshenko and Vitali Klitschko, as well as the newly elected Prime Minister, Arsenyi Yatsenuk, are also expected to attend and speak at the EPP congress – a sign of support and recognition from Europe's largest political family.

Turning to the EU elections on Friday, EPP leaders are set to pick the lead candidate for the EPP – a politician who will appear in televised debates with the top candidates of other political families and possibly have a chance to become the next EU commission president.

According to the Lisbon Treaty that came into force in 2009, government leaders must "take into account" the result of the EU elections when deciding on the Commission President.

This novelty was aimed at making the European Parliament election campaign more engaging and stop the continuously declining turnout trend.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel – seen as the most powerful leader in the EPP group – has already indicated she sees "no automaticity" between the election result and the person to succeed Jose Manuel Barroso at the helm of the EU commission.

And the EPP is indeed the last political family to nominate its candidate.

It has two candidates to choose from: ex-Eurogroup chief and former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker and internal market commissioner Michel Barnier. A third, the so-called Baltic candidate, former Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, withdrew his candidacy on Wednesday evening. (5 March).

Juncker, who will turn 60 this year, is tipped as frontrunner. He was the longest-serving Prime Minister in the EU until his resignation last year over failure to control the domestic intelligence service which allegedly was engaged in illegal wiretapping, corruption and stolen cars.

The Luxembourg politician is from the same political generation as former Commission President Jacques Delors and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, both key figures in the 1980s and 1990s. He has openly admitted that he favours "secret, dark debates" rather than too much transparency.

As former Eurogroup chief and member of the EU council, Juncker was instrumental in the way eurozone leaders and finance ministers managed the euro-crisis – notably the bailouts of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain and the accompanying austerity measures.

Another 'veteran' in EU politics is Barnier – a former MEP, commissioner for regional policy, French agriculture, foreign and Europe minister, and currently commissioner for internal market and financial services.

Barnier, who is 63, would be a surprise winner because his country, France, has a Social-Democrat government and no prominent politicians to support him within the EPP.

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