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21st Feb 2024

Merkel and Macron split over Weber presidency

  • French president Macron (r) met with central European leaders ahead of the informal summit. Macron named Margrethe Vestager, Michel Barnier, and Frans Timmermans as possible commission presidents - but left out Manfred Weber (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Battle lines are emerging among EU heads of government on who should lead the EU's executive after the European election that has diminished the traditional centrist majority parties' power.

EU leaders on Tuesday evening (28 May) in Brussels have their first face-to-face discussions on the elections results and who should run the top EU institutions, including the European commission, for the next five years.

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  • Merkel gave her blessing to the Bavarian MEP and EPP's lead candidate in the European elections. 'As a member of the EPP, I will, of course, advocate for Manfred Weber,' she said arriving at the summit (Photo: Consilium)

German chancellor Angela Merkel, the heavyweight in Europe's centre-right political alliance, the European People's Party (EPP) and French president Emmanuel Macron, who will form a new group with liberals, are at odds over who should lead the EU executive.

Merkel gave her blessing to Bavarian MEP, Manfred Weber, the EPP's lead candidate in the European elections.

"As a member of the EPP, I will, of course, advocate for Manfred Weber," she said arriving at the summit.

Meawhile, Marcon told reporters on Tuesday: "I don't want to talk about names".

Macron then named Danish commissioner, liberal Margrethe Vestager, the EU's Brexit negotiator, French centre-right Michel Barnier, and Dutch commissioner, social democratic lead candidate Frans Timmermans as possible commission presidents - but left out Weber.

Liberal national leaders seemed to gather behind Vestager: Luxembourg's premier Xavier Bettel has said Vestager would be "perfect" for commission president.

However, it is unlikely that any decision will emerge on Tuesday or any time soon.

Premiers are expected to task the European Council president Donald Tusk to put together the priorities for the next commission by when they meet next at the end of June.

Keeping powder dry

"Nobody wants to risk political capital at this point either to exclude someone or fight for someone," said one EU official on how the meeting between leaders can play out.

"We have to discuss content first, then people," Dutch prime minister Mark Rutter said arriving to the meeting.

Weber does not have a majority in the parliament as of now, as political negotiations have only just started on building a coalition. His EPP has 177 seats in the 751-seat parliament, Socialists are in second position with 150 MEPs, liberals hold 107 seats and the greens 69.

For a strong and stable majority coalition, at least 400 seats are needed, but with the emerging power struggle between mainly the liberals and the EPP will be the initial crux.

That leaves the national leaders in a comfortable position: there is no pressure to chose or reject Weber, who several leaders see as inexperienced and representing the status quo.

Complicating matters for Weber, the liberals - who became the third biggest party in the election and are now possible kingmakers in the coalition-building - are against the lead candidate system, which would put the Bavarian Weber in pole position for the commission top job.

Other parties, such as the EPP and S&D, are upset that while the liberals have not participated in the lead candidate procedure and dismiss it, they still want to control the political process of choosing the parliament's preferred candidate for the commission presidency.

EPP officials argue that after the political campaign spearheaded by Weber, and supported by Europe's largest political family, the EPP, it will be difficult to convince EPP member parties and MEPs to ditch their candidate.

Parliament vs Council

That also creates another battle line, this time between the European Parliament and European Council, made up of national leaders, on who has the prerogative on choosing the commission president.

The parliament points to the lead candidate process, which they created in 2014, and argue that the lead candidate who builds a coalition majority should get the job.

National leaders point to the treaty that says it is the European Council's job to nominate a person on whom the parliament can vote. Leaders have repeatedly said there is 'no automaticity' in the winning lead candidate getting the commission top post.

Other big roles are also up for grabs later this year, including the head of the European Parliament and the European Central Bank, the bloc's foreign policy chief and the head of the European Council - all of which will turn the haggling into horse-trading.

Analysis

Key takeaways from the European elections

European voters upset the status quo in the new European Parliament, breaking the monopoly of the mainstream centre-right and centre-left. Here are the key points from the 2019 vote.

Magazine

The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted

It is a divisive 'Brussels bubble' debate: whether to give the European Parliament more of a say on who becomes the next European Commission president. But the issue goes right to the heart of European integration.

Timmermans calls for left-wing coalition at debate

The centre-right's Manfred Weber got most of the heat at the EU Commission presidential candidates' final debate before the European elections, while Frans Timmermans reached out to a possible coalition partners - piling more pressure on Weber's EPP.

EP parties planning 'coalition agenda' ahead of jobs summit

Political bosses of the European Parliament's groups, hoping to assemble a majority coalition, are eyeing putting forward an political agenda - and possibly a name for the commission top job - before EU leaders gather in Brussels.

EU leaders task Tusk to find commission chief by June

With national leaders and the European Parliament divided over who to put forward for the commission presidency, the EU Council president will now start negotiations with all sides - hoping to come up with an answer by next month.

Analysis

A second von der Leyen term at EU helm 'not a done deal'

German conservative Ursula von der Leyen is seeking reappointment as European Commission president after the June elections. However, her leadership over the past years has triggered internal frustrations that cast uncertainty on her reelection.

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