Party chiefs in the European Parliament have warned EU leaders meeting in Brussels not to try and foist their own candidates for the bloc’s most senior job.
In a joint statement released hours before a summit kickstarting the race for the EU’s top jobs, the heads of the conservative, socialist, green and leftwing parliamentary groups insisted the European Commission presidency should go to one of the lead candidates who ran in last week’s elections.
The statement underlines how fraught the appointment of the EU’s most senior roles is likely to be, with some heads of state and government led by the French president rising against the parliament’s process and favouring instead a negotiation among government leaders.
It will test the resolve of EU leaders as they gather for a dinner in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss appointments and the result of the elections. Under the EU’s treaties, heads of state and government have the task of picking a candidate to become Commission president, but that person then needs approval from MEPs. The European Council, on which national leaders sit, has before concluded that lead candidates have no automatic right to the Commission.
The statement is a boost for Berlin-backed conservative politician Manfred Weber, who as leader of the largest grouping in parliament, the European People’s Party, feels entitled to vie for the agenda-setting Commission job, currently held by Jean-Claude Juncker. But it stopped short of naming him as the parliament’s pick.
The ambiguity reflects the power struggle between the parliament’s different political forces, which also led to the cancelling of a dinner on Monday between Mr Weber and other party chiefs. In the wake of Sunday’s elections, that failed to deliver a clear majority for one political group, the centre-left is fighting for its own candidate, Frans Timmermans, to secure the presidency.
In a sign that a compromise might still be envisaged, the parliament group leaders in the statement refrained from raising the threat of a veto against any nominee by the European Council who did not run in the elections as a lead candidate.
Mr Weber said on Tuesday that the statement showed parliament was looking for “a candidate that practised democracy, that showed up before the elections [to campaign]”.
But he refrained for any public demand that other political groups rally behind him, saying that “we have to sit together and find a common understanding.”
His biggest hurdle remains Mr Macron, whose top campaigner Pascal Canfin on Monday said the Bavarian MEP was “totally disqualified” after a poorer showing than in previous European elections in 2014.
The liberal group in the European Parliament linked to the French leader chose not to sign the joint statement on Tuesday, reiterating arguments that the system was flawed in the absence of transnational electoral lists.
Its leader Guy Verhofstadt: “The EPP is pushing hard for the Spitzenkandidaten-system, but unfortunately they killed its legitimacy when they voted against transnational lists. They try to ride to power on a horse that they already slaughtered themselves.”
Ska Keller, co-leader of the Greens, who have recorded big gains in the European elections, backed the Spitzenkandidat process saying that it ruled out Frenchman Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator who has often been mentioned as an alternative choice for the centre right.
The statement “goes for lead candidates, not just anyone who goes around and holds speeches, no matter how nice they may have been,” she said.