On 23-26 May 2019, European Elections will take place across Europe. The result will be not just a new European Parliament, but also new commissioners and cabinets in each EU directorate. Lack of an agreed process for selecting the next European Commission President, however, could result in a delay in filling the Commission places. The elections campaign kick-offs on 1 March, so FERMA is stepping up to inform its readers on the top issues ahead of poll.

Creating the new Commission will begin with the election of the Commission President, but the EU has no agreed process for choosing its most important official. It must take account of the result of the Parliamentary election, but the way it does so is currently subject to differences of opinion.

Five years ago, MEPs followed the Spitzenkandidat (lead candidate) process. In this process, the political groupings (parties) in the European Parliament nominate a lead candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission before the European elections. After the elections, the party which has won the most seats gets its candidate installed as President – much like a prime ministerial system.

However, this process is not formalised, and some member states oppose it because they argue that that France and Germany, as the largest EU countries, have an unfair advantage. As a result, it’s not clear if this method of selecting a Commission President will go ahead this time around.

However, selecting the commissioners requires the involvement of the Commission President. Following the Parliamentary elections, member states propose individual members of the Commission and the newly elected President of the Commission selects them. The nominated men and women are then subject to Parliamentary scrutiny in committees; negative evaluations have led to individuals withdrawing their candidacy in the past. Finally, the European Parliament approves or rejects the composition of the Commission as a whole.

If there is no Spitzenkandidat, the process would revert to how it used to work. The European Council (the group of leaders of the member states) would nominate a candidate for the Presidency of the Commission using qualified majority voting, and the European Parliament has to approve the candidate by a simple majority. If the candidate is rejected, the European Council has to propose another candidate, again using qualified majority voting.