17th Jan 2019

Centre-right to table joint candidate for EU commission

  • Jean-Claude Juncker is the top candidate among the 6 EPP names (Photo: EPP)

EU centre-right leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday (19 December) agreed to a calendar for selecting a top candidate for the European Commission next year.

The European People's Party - the political family dominating EU institutions - was the last to set out a selection procedure for the lead candidate for the commission job, a novelty ahead of next year's EU elections.

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At a summit in October, Merkel, poured cold water on the process while Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and EU council chief Herman Van Rompuy said it was too soon to decide on the calendar.

They feared that several of the names floated are serving prime ministers who do not want to be put in a lame-duck situation back home.

On Thursday, EPP leaders decided to open the submission of candidacies on 13 February. Candidates will need the support of their national party plus the backing of two other countries and will be voted on at an EPP congress in Dublin on 6-7 March.

According to EPP president Joseph Daul, there are "about six people who are interested" in the job.

So far, the lead candidate - who has lost his prime minister post last month - is Luxembourg EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker. Up until last year, Juncker was head of the eurogroup of finance ministers and the EU's longest-serving Prime Minister.

"I am ready if I am asked," Juncker said in an interview with Le Monde when asked about the post of commission president.

Other possible names are Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Finland's PM Jyrki Katainen, who is also said to have his eye on being eurogroup chief.

Latvia's former Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, who resigned recently over the collapse of a supermarket that killed 51 people, is also a possible name.

EU internal market commissioner Michel Barnier, a former French MEP, has openly said he is interested in the post. His commission colleague in charge of justice and fundamental rights, Luxembourg's Viviane Reding, has long been rumoured as a possible candidate.

Other groups have put out their calendars and started the process already. The Greens are holding an open primary and have selected four top candidates, with a final selection on 21-23 February.

The Liberals are choosing between two top candidates - EU economics commissioner Olli Rehn from Finland and Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium.

Meanwhile, the only almost-certain candidate for the EU commission top job is Martin Schulz, the German head of the European Parliament.

His Socialist party will have a primary in January and a final selection at a party congress in Rome on 28 February-1 March.

The European Left - the smaller leftist political group - has nominated Alexis Tsipras from Greece as their lead candidate.

Parties are hoping to boost turnout at the EU elections, which has been declining since the first direct elections in 1979. A novelty in the Lisbon Treaty, EU leaders need to take into account the result of the EU elections when deciding on the commission head.

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