18th May 2022

MEPs seek control over EU commission president nomination

  • Jose Manuel Barroso is seeking a second term as European Commission president (Photo: European Commission)

The European Parliament is seeking to have a stronger influence over the choosing of the next European Commission president and is asking member states to consult it before nominating a candidate.

A report passed a large majority of MEPs on Thursday (7 May) suggests that the rules of the Lisbon Treaty - still in the process of ratification in some member states - on nominating the commission president already be taken into consideration.

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This would mean that national governments propose a candidate that reflects the outcome of the European elections and only after discussions with political leaders in the parliament.

Prepared by Belgian centre-right MEP Jean-Luc Dehaene, the report proposes a new timetable for appointing nominating the commission president, with EU leaders previously having agreed to name someone at their mid-June summit,.

Instead, MEPs suggest that parliament will take two weeks to compose itself after the 4-7 June elections and that in the third week, consultations begin between the Czech EU presidency and the parliament president, and then with all the leaders of the political groups in the parliament.

Under the current rules, member states are not obliged to consult the European Parliament or to take into account the results of the elections when choosing a commission president - a process that traditionally takes place behind closed doors and involves much political horse-trading.

If the centre-right EPP maintains its dominance in the parliament as has been predicted by some analysts, it has said it will support Jose Manuel Barroso, currently heading the commission, for a second term.

The Socialists, unable to nominate a candidate themselves due to internal divisions, have said they will back Mr Barroso only if he commits to a programme that contains more social policies.

Predicted to continue being the second biggest faction in the parliament, the Socialists have been very critical of Mr Barroso's presidency, saying he is too supportive of business and free-market policies.

More powerful parliament

Whereas member states had a tendency to dismiss parliament in the past, recent years have seen the EU assembly grow in stature.

It flexed its muscles in this area in 2004 when it forced Italy to withdraw its commissioner candidate because it considered him too socially conservative for the justice and home affairs post. Many MEPs at the time spoke of a watershed moment for the parliament.

Mr Barroso himself was burnt by the experience, failing to recognise the strength of feeling among deputies, a misjudgement that saw the parliament almost reach the point where it was ready to not approve the commission in its entirety.

Member states are not obliged to follow the Dehaene report, with the Lisbon Treaty set to come into force next year at the earliest, and only if Ireland says "Yes" in its second referendum and only if it survives a legal challenge in Germany.

This report and two others concerning the Lisbon Treaty caused some controversy in the parliament, with the assembly's authorities only at the last moment agreeing to put them on the agenda because of sensitivities concerning the on-going ratification of the treaty.

Opponents of the move say the reports prejudge the outcome of the Irish referendum, due this autumn.

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