Habemus papam… not yet

2 July 2019, a series of tweets of Donald Tusk:

This is the package negotiated by the European Council. No place for Mr Weber. No place for Mr Timmermans. Why?

The European People’s Party got stubborn in their demands for an EPP politician on top of the next European Commission. If Weber was not acceptable for others, than a new name was chosen. By the one and only, dame of European politics Angela Merkel. She truly is a king and queen maker, if this is not derailed (see below).

With Mr Macron on board (Lagarde!), Mr Sanchez got what he wanted from the start (Borrell!), and the EPP happy too there is a relieve in the European Council and dissatisfaction elsewhere. It matters that Mr Timmermans and Mr Rutte (PM of the Netherlands) come from different political families; Mr Rutte did not defend Mr Timmermans as a Dutch candidate.

The liberals and centrists of the European Council wanted the leadership of EUCO, and this is what they got. Read the small print: Mr Charles Michel is the only one ELECTED today. All the other ones are nominees and a proposal.

Hence the ball moves to the European Parliament. This is what the S&D communicated soon after the EUCO decision:

Yes, the European Council did not elect the next European Commission President. The European Council proposed a candidate that will or not be elected by the European Parliament.

Welcome to Strasbourg.

The Parliament is welcoming. It has postponed its deadline for candidates for the presidency of the House to give the European Council more time that it clearly needed. But the outcome of it is unclear.

Will Ms von der Leyen reach the 375 mark? Let’s see what happens. To throw the Spitzenkandidaten system under the bus the way the European Council did at the end of the day is a blow to the European Parliament firmly believing in the process. Hence the decision of the Social Democrats to be sceptical. Also since they were so close just 48 hours before…

As S&D has every right to be disappointed, the question is if there will be a majority in the Parliament able to defend the European Parliament’s future of the Spitzenkandidaten system. Mr Weber said at the EPP meeting tonight: “Macron and Orban killed the Spitzenkandidaten system”. Can it be revived?

The Greens’ are growing their dissatisfaction, too. Bas Eickhout, a leading EP Green tweeted:

Fan fact, the EUCO decision was not unanimous. Germany abstained… Quite a dame Angela Merkel abstaining from voting for a German CDU minister. Or, is she making a statement saying “I win a small war but I might be losing a big war on Spitzen-candidates and I want to remind you that this war is not over quite yet”?

The Polish take

The Poles are ecstatic. Last time the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) politicians were happy about EU? Never. Last time the PiS politicians were as supportive of an EU federalist politician? Never. They are simply happy Mr Timmermans is not the Commission President.

Where is an Eastern European? Absent. Some say this could be compensated at the level of the vice-presidents of the Commission, which is a weak compensation. Ms Merkel is better at the press conference: “There is a prospect of an Eastern European for Parliament president”. There is one at the moment, but it is 8:30 PM and there is still time for new ideas. For the moment Mr Jan Zahradil is ECR’s candidate for the EP’s top job. Was this Merkel’s endorsement for Zahradil? Somehow I am sceptical.

Et alors?

This is a good deal. Two women, all federalists, all competent people. 27 votes in favour of Ms von der Leyen with 0 against and 1 friendly abstention.

This is a bad deal. This is a deal disrespectful of the Parliament’s Spitzen-candidates system. The candidate was not presented in the campaign. Citizens have a right to feel cheated, as the next Commission President is supposed to be running on an increased legitimacy given by the citizens to the Union during the elections process. Instead the President-candidate runs on the European Council legitimacy. For now, that is.

Yes, Ms von der Leyen, maybe we should call her UVDL for short, is a President-candidate for now. She will be President-elect when she receives 375 votes or more in the European Parliament. She will be President once her College is approved later this year.

This process brings me with a few reflections. First, the party politics dominates the European political stage much more than national interests or institutional arrangements, for now at least. This is a sign of maturing of the system.

Second, there is a need to rethink the Spitzenkandidaten process ahead of 2024 and 2029. Clearly the 2009/2010, 2014 and 2019 experiences are rich to draw conclusions from.

Third, it is a pity that the Central Europeans are nowhere to be seen. This solution is a proof that CEE countries, especially Poland and Italy lose power and influence. Mr Morawiecki at the press conference said he was confident that the region will be well represented. But how?

He also supported de-politicisation of the Commission, presented himself as a part of a compromise. This is a positive step in associating Law and Justice for being co-responsible for the European Union and its independent institutions in the future. The vote for UVDL is an investment into building trust of countries like Poland, but also Hungary and Italy.

But Mateusz Morawiecki would not be himself if he did not attack Mr Timmermans again calling him a radical candidate of the extreme left. Personal attacks like this make heroes, do not bury enemies. The popularity of Martin Schulz was built on an offence against him by Mr Berlusconi back in 2003.

Fourth, what will be the role of the conservative, very conservative or sovereignist commissioners arriving from Poland, Italy and Hungary in the new Commission? Prime Minister Conte just said Italy will have a vice-president of the Commission responsible for the competition portfolio. Let’s see how this goes in due time, especially since it is to be La Lega’s candidate. Interesting.

Fifth, something for tomorrow: who will be the next President of the Parliament?

Once we know this we can ponder on how Ms Ursula can get her 375 yeses in the Strasbourg chamber.

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