Changes in EU leadership (Part 1)

After May 25th elections, the European Union (EU) is facing a change at top positions which will lead it for the next years. During the summit in Brussels, held on August 30th, European leaders chose the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The European Council consists of the head of States or government of each member State of the EU and, according to the Lisbon Treaty, its purpose is to “provide the Union with the necessary impetus for its development”[1], by doing this without any formal powers, only through political influence. Its presidency is held for a two-and-a-half-year term, with the possibility of renewal once. Incumbent President is Herman van Rompuy, former Belgian PM and member of the EPP, elected in late 2009 and renewed in 2012. Appointments require a double majority support in the European Council.

During the summit, leaders elected Polish PM and EPP member, Donald Tusk, becoming next President with a unanimous vote[2]. Regarding the distribution of tasks among European parties, it was supposed that this role would be assigned to Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt, representative of the PES, because the Commission President would be Jean-Claude Juncker, EPP member.

Tusk will be the first politician who comes from an Eastern country to fill a high role in EU institutions (except for Jerzy Buzek who was President of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2012). Tusk, Poland’s PM since 2007, stepped down on September 9th and will take up his post on December 1st; new PM is Ewa Kopacz[3], speaker of the Sejm (lower House of the Parliament): she reshuffled the cabinet and submitted FM and former Poland’s candidate for the post of EU High Representative, Radek Sikorski, becoming new speaker of the assembly.

In Poland the general elections are scheduled for October 2015 and the election of Tusk at the European Council Presidency has reduced the gap between government-leading Civic Platform (PO, member of EPP) and opposition Law and Justice (PiS, member of ECR), led by Jarosław Kaczyński, who is still leading the electoral polls.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR) is the other appointment that can be made by the European Council. HR is a member of the European Commission and is one of its Vice-presidents by right of office. Incumbent HR is Catherine Ashton (PES exponent and member of the British House of Lords). During the summit, leaders elected Italian FM and PES member, Federica Mogherini[4], with only Dalia Grybauskaitė who abstained.

During summer discussion on the post of HR, Italian PM Matteo Renzi pushed for the appointment of his FM (nominated only on February 2014): this insistence was due to the election victory in the European election, in which Democratic Party (PD, PES member) obtained 31 MEPs, the highest number of lawmakers inside the assembly. With the 40.81% of the votes PD obtained the fourth highest percentage for a national party in this election, following 56.37% of Hungarian Fidesz – Christian Democratic People’s Party joint list, 53.39% of Maltese Labour Party, 46.2% of Latvian Vienotība (Unity) and 41.4% of Croatian Democratic Union; analysing the two-party system in Malta, the critics of the new Hungarian electoral law, which amend the constituencies’ borders, and that Latvia and Croatia are small States, Italian PM considered his party as the winner of the European election, although PES (the European party PD belongs to) arrived second, behind EPP, and with only 0.4% of growth.

Some leaders questioned Mogherini about her lack of experience (she’s Italian FM since February 2014) but she said that she had been involving in European affairs for 20 years, stressing her experience in Italian parliamentary institutions. Another important theme was her soft stance about Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine issue: leaders of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland opposed her candidacy but the choice of Tusk as President of the European Council, seen as a counterbalance, allowed Mogherini to obtain the support of all the eastern leaders, except for the Lithuanian president, who abstained. About this matter she pointed out that her first trip abroad after the beginning of the Italian presidency of the Council of the EU was to Kiev, and only then to Moscow, in order to “facilitate a dialogue between the factions”.

On July 15th, European Parliament elected Jean-Claude Juncker as the next president of the European Commission[5], on the proposal for the European Council who chose him by a vote in which UK and Hungary voted against. The parliament approved Juncker with 422 votes for, 250 against, 47 abstained, 10 invalid, with 729 lawmakers voting (of the 751 MEP’s).

Junker is a former Luxemburgish PM (1995-2013) and former president of the Eurogroup (2005-2013).

He led the electoral campaign for the EPP against Martin Schulz of the PES, Alexis Tsipras of the European Left (EL), Guy Verhofstadt of the ALDE and the José Bové and Ska Keller for the Greens. The 2014 European electoral campaign was characterized by the Spitzenkandidaten system, in which europeist parties proposed candidates for the presidency of the EC, based on the Article 17.7 of Maastricht Treaty, modified in 2009 by the Lisbon Treaty, which says: “Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission”.

Junker was supported, inside the European Parliament, by EPP, S&D (PES group in which only British Labours were against) and ALDE (the liberal-democratic party who arrived fourth in the election, strictly below ECR; it has obtained top appointment inside the EP thanks to an agreement with S&D and EPP in change of the support of Juncker Commission).

ECR, the moderately eurosceptic party led by British Tories and Polish PiS, voted against because of the opposition to the Spitzenkandidaten system; also GUE (the parliamentary group of the EL) voted against, while the group Greens/EFA (to which regionalist parties belong together with green parties) was split between supporters and opponents of Juncker’s election. EFDD (the eurosceptic group led by Nigel Farage) and the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF), the right-wing eurosceptic party led by Marine Le Pen, which belongs to the Non-Inscrits, strongly opposed to him.



Bachelor’s degree in European Policy and Integration (University of Padua)



[1]Trattato sull’Unione europea.

[2]Anon., Polish PM elected as EU chairman, “”, August 30th, 2014.

[3]Anon., New government under PM Kopacz sworn in at Presidential Palace, “”, Spetember 22nd, 2014.

[4]I.Caizzi, È italiano il nuovo volto dell’Europa – con me arriva un’altra generazione, “Il Corriere della Sera”, August 31st , 2014.

[5]L.Pascale, Sì del Parlamento Ue: Jean-Claude Juncker è il nuovo Presidente della Commissione, “European News Service”, July 15th, 2014.

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