Every five years Brussels has a bout of political intrigue. It is the time when a new European Parliament is elected, and connected to that, a new team of European Commissioners chosen. The European Parliament elections are due in May 2014, and with the Commission due to be chosen in the autumn of 2014, speculation in Brussels is already starting about who could be in line for the top positions. I will blog about this issue over the coming few months, but as a point of departure I am going to look at the position of the Party of European Socialists, and what they might do about the Commission.
Why does the PES position matter? Essentially since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the President of the European Commission is to be ‘elected’ by the European Parliament. So if a party wins the EP elections (or at least end up as the largest group) then they should get the Commission President job too. In 2009 the Party of European Socialists did not agree on one candidate for Commission President, and lost the elections anyway. I still doubt the PES’s chances in the election, but they could at least be the first party to try to unify behind a candidate, and have a sort of primary process in place to make the decision about a candidate.
So who are the likely candidates, if the PES can get its act together?
Martin Schulz [Wikipedia]
Current role: President of the European Parliament
The clear favourite. Schulz has positioned himself in Brussels as the main spokesperson for the centre left, previously as leader of the S&D Group in the European Parliament, and more recently as President of the European Parliament. His 1970s retro trade union leader style might not appeal to everyone, but he is a professional operator and decent speechmaker. His institutional views that lean towards federalism scare some peripheral Member States and his nationality might count against him, as might the fact that he has never held a position in a national government.
Helle Thorning Schmidt [Wikipedia]
Current role: Prime Minister of Denmark
One of the few partial success stories for the centre left in recent years was the return to power of a centre left coalition in Denmark in 2011. This means that former MEP Thorning’s name is often mentioned in connection with top positions in Brussels. However her government is suffering in the polls only two years into her term, so leaving to the Commission might look like leaving a sinking ship. It is also very hard to place Thorning ideologically – this may or may not be an advantage depending on your view of the Commission. Would be the first female Commission President if successful.
Pascal Lamy [Wikipedia]
Current role: Director-General of the World Trade Organisation
Lamy would bring considerable experience and gravitas to the role. He is also a former European Commissioner for Trade and comes from the pragmatic side of the French socialists, while his WTO experience would reassure the centre right. He speaks excellent English, is a good communicator, and would bring a calm assurance to the role. His lack of national experience, time away from the EU mainstream, and possibly his age, could count against him. He would however be my personal choice for the job.
Frans Timmermans [Wikipedia]
Current role: Foreign Minister of the Netherlands
Another of the minor successes of the left in recent years has been the return to government in the Netherlands of the Partij van de Arbeid, and Timmermans is one of the most senior politicians from the party in government. His wide experience of foreign affairs and EU politics would be assets, but having only been Foreign Minister since November 2012 means he has even less experience at the very highest level than Thorning. Would he want to leave a national role so soon? His nationality – from a core Eurozone country – would count in his favour.
José Luis Zapatero [Wikipedia]
Former role: Prime Minister of Spain
Spain was one of the great success stories for the centre left in the 2000s, and Zapatero was the symbol of that. Subsequent economic experience there perhaps shows his administration in a different light however. His considerable governmental experience counts in his favour, although his nationality and poor quality spoken English are perhaps against him. His commitment to the European Union while he was Prime Minister was sometimes questioned, not least when he nominated the centre-right Barroso for Commission President in 2009.
Borut Pahor (President of Slovenia), Sergei Stanishev (former Prime Minister of Bulgaria), Wouter Bos (former leader of the Dutch Labour Party), José Sócrates (former Prime Minister of Portugal), Werner Faymann (Chancellor or Austria).
If I’m missing anyone please do suggest names in the comments. And no, Tony Blair is not a viable candidate – that is why he is not listed here.
[UPDATE 27.4.13, 2300 - minor corrections to the Timmermans bio, and Faymann added]
[UPDATE 27.4.13, 2345 - via Twitter, Ronny points out the nomination process]
[UPDATE 1.5.13, 1400 - the best additional suggestion (in comments below) so far is Paul Magnette, chairman of Belgium's PS. Skilled and clever, albeit rather inexperienced, he might have what it takes]
|Posts about EU top candidates 2014
President of the Commission: EPP, PES, Others | President of the European Council | High Rep for EU Foreign Policy
Image credits – all Creative Commons / Sharealike licensed
Martin Schulz by European Parliament | Helle Thorning Schmidt by Arbeiderpartiet | Pascal Lamy by World Economic Forum | Frans Timmermans by United Nations – Geneva | José Luis Zapatero by Parti Socialiste