Opinion

European conservatives Spitzenkandidat dilemma

Europes conservatives face a vexing choice in the aftermath of last months European election.

The European Peoples Party — the powerful alliance of the Continents center-right forces — can either rescue the lead candidate system it has long championed for choosing the president of the European Commission, or it can put one of its own as head of the EU executive.

It cant do both.

Its a dilemma entirely of the partys own making.

The problem started when the group selected Manfred Weber as its Spitzenkandidat, even though the EPPs leadership knew he would almost surely be unacceptable to the European Council, where heavyweight members such as French President Emmanuel Macron oppose him outright and several others are lukewarm, at best, about his leadership potential.

Webers selection as president would signal a complete capitulation by the Council to the Parliament in choosing the Commission president.

With a consensus to nominate Weber implausible in the Council, the EPP finds itself in an awkward position. Does it ditch Weber and support a Spitzenkandidat from another party or does it agree to substitute another EPP politician who was not a Spitzenkandidat in place of Weber — thereby securing the top job but risking the systems credibility.

How did the EPP get into this mess?

The Spitzenkandidat system, after all, is not set in stone. It is not even provided for in the EU treaties. The treaty process for selecting the Commission president simply requires that the Council “take into account” the European Parliament election results when proposing a candidate for Commission chief, and that the nominee must be able to win the backing of a majority in the Parliament. In other words, the treaty envisions the selection of the Commission president as a compromise between the Council and the Parliament.

When Parliament launched the Spitzenkandidat process five years ago, however, its leaders sought to leverage its power to approve the Councils candidate.

Lead candidates Ska Keller, Margrethe Vestager, Frans Timmermans and Manfred Weber | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

In short, the Parliaments message to the Council was: You can nominate whomever you want, but the only person we will approve is the Spitzenkandidat of the party that won the most seats in the election. While many critics saw this as a brazen power grab, the Parliament justified the process as a means to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the EU by, supposedly, letting the voters decide who would become Commission president.

Whatever one thinks of the Spitzenkandidat process, it is important to recognize that Parliaments success in using the process the last time, in 2014, depended on the fact that the lead candidate of the largest party, the EPPs Jean-Claude Juncker, was acceptable to the Council.

To be sure, pressure from the Parliament and the media helps explain why eventually Angela Merkel and all but two heads of government overcame their misgivings about the Spitzenkandidat process and came out in support of Juncker. But Juncker became president not simply because the Parliament strong-armed the Council, but also because he was politically acceptable to the Council.

As a longtime prime minister of Luxembourg and former president of the Eurogroup, Juncker was a consummate Council insider. Also, as a moderate Christian Democrat, he was able to win support from across the political spectrum in the Council.

Weber enjoys no such support in the Council. He is a dedicated European Parliament man whose career took him straight from the Landtag in Bavaria to Strasbourg and Brussels. He has no experience in national government, and his selection as president would signal a complete capitulation by the Council to the Parliament in choosing the Commission president.

Moreover, as leader of the EPP group in the Parliament, Weber spent years shielding Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbáns Fidesz party, a fellow EPP member, from EU criticism — even as Orbán consolidated a hybrid authoritarian regime, cracked down on the media and restricted academic freedom.

Those who want to see the Spitzenkandidaten system survive should hope that one of the other candidates — Vestager or Timmermans — comes out on top.

Despite Webers recent efforts to distance himself from Orbán, he cannot shake off his reputation as an enabler of autocracy. That will make him an unacceptable choice for several liberal and socialist governments in the Council. Indeed, Macron has reached out to other heads of government, including Spains Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, to form a coalition to block Weber.

So with Webers nomination likely doomed, the EPP faces a choice.

If it chooses to defend the SpitzenkandidatRead More – Source