After the 2019 European Parliament elections, the old guard tried to dig in. However, the two large but shrinking voting blocks – the right-of-center EPP and the left-of-center S&D – that used to divvy up political power in the European Parliament between themselves, are no longer in control of their own destiny.
Considerably weakened at the ballot box, they need to rely on a three- or four-party coalition to form a comfortably stable majority in the new European Parliament.
Predictably enough, both groupings engaged in all sorts of posturing to ensure that one of their two leaders, Manfred Weber or Frank Timmermans, gets the nod for President of the European Commission. On the surface, this is supposed to be the only way by which the “Spitzenkandidatensystem” can be observed.
According to this German-origin European neologism, the European Parliament cannot accept a President of the European Commission to be divined by the European Council, that is, by the EU member countries’ heads of governments. That is said to be undemocratic, it is said.
While there is a big behind-the-scenes fight about the validity of this particular argument, another element of political power that reflects the changed political equation in the new parliament is not sufficiently factored into current political equations.
Needed: A centrist as Commission President
Since it will be necessary to form a multi-party coalition in the European Parliament, the old principle of one of the two “biggies” – either the EPP or the S&D – getting the nod for the top job is no longer an automatic result.
Come to think of it, it isn’t even desirable any longer. After all, picking either Timmermans or Weber would mean that the Commission President would come from one of the two political edges of the new ruling coalition.
To reflect the political spectrum of the emerging coalition more fully, it stands to reason that the top candidate of the party within the three- or four-party coalition that represents its actual political center ground should get the nod to lead the Commission.
And that puts Margrethe Vestager into a very comfortable position.
High time to have a woman as Commission President
This applies all the more so as an additional attraction of following the logic of Vestager’s selection is that it is high time finally to have a woman as Commission President.
Few, if any candidates are as qualified for the post as the current EU Competition Commissioner from Denmark. As a negotiator and administrator, she certainly has shown her mettle under tough circumstances.
And it is a real plus that Vestager is not just truly personable, but also a gifted communicator. What more could anybody want?
In addition, her selection would preserve a remnant of the “Spitzenkandidatensystem,” as she ran as one of the leaders of the liberal block.
Her selection could give the entire EU a refreshing boost. The old guard majority parties – the EPP and the S&D – also appear exhausted and generally quite devoid of ideas (although Frans Timmermans, the Dutchman, is a refreshing exception to that generally true statement).
Germany pleasing Macron?
The selection of Vestager, representing the liberals, should also please Emmanuel Macron greatly. That should matter to the German government which has so far mainly chosen to frustrate the initiatives of the young and energetic French President.
Plus, Angela Merkel ought to consider it a feather in her cap. She can contribute to EU history by throwing her weight behind a highly qualified woman candidate.
Inoculation against right-wing parties
More importantly, considering the dynamics of politics in quite a few European countries, an emerging blue, red, yellow and green coalition, spanning the EPP, S&D, Liberals and Greens, would prove to be a powerful inoculation against the right-wing parties in the various countries.
Finally, this broad party grouping also reflects many of the dynamics of how Europe has to position itself in an increasingly competitive world.
Just relying on the outdated left-right logic of divvying up the spoils does not create the required dynamism that Europe needs to meet its goals in terms of innovation, social cohesion, climate change and economic growth.
Why is it right that neither Weber nor Timmermans get the nod to run the European Commission?
Picking Timmermans or Weber would mean that the Commission President would come from one of the two political edges of the new ruling coalition.
As a negotiator and administrator, Vestager certainly has shown her mettle under tough circumstances.
Vestager is not just truly personable, but also a gifted communicator. What more could anybody want?
The selection of Vestager should please Macron. That should matter to the German government which has so far frustrated his EU initiatives.