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Time for Strong New EU Leaders

As the EU prepares to replace its top officeholders, the union needs leaders who can confront bullying international actors, navigate through a turbulent political scene, and rebuild public trust in the European project writes Stefan Lehne

The EU’s Game of Thrones, which will play out in the coming weeks, will be lacking in blood and sex, but will easily equal the TV series in complexity. Following the European Parliament elections that took place on May 23–26, EU leaders must now choose the next presidents of the European Commission, European Council, European Parliament, and European Central Bank (ECB) as well as a new EU foreign policy chief.

Essentially, there will be three games running in parallel, but they will all have to come together in the end.


The first game is between the EU’s institutions. The European Parliament pulled off a constitutional coup in 2014 by imposing the lead candidate (known by the German term Spitzenkandidat) of the largest party group, Jean-Claude Juncker, as European Commission president. According to the EU treaties, it is the national leaders in the European Council who should propose a candidate to the parliament, “taking into account the elections.”

The main party groups, except the Liberals, would now like to build on this success and turn the Spitzenkandidaten model into a permanent rule for selecting the commission president. Immediately after the 2019 elections, they adopted a statement asserting that the next commission president should be one of the lead candidates. However, they did not rally behind the candidate of the biggest group, Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party (EPP), and they did not threaten to veto anyone else.

In the European Council, there are many who would like to bury the Spitzenkandidaten concept. They feel it gives too much influence to the parliament and unduly limits the choice of the best-qualified person for the job. But most wish to avoid an open confrontation with the parliament, which will, in the end, have to elect the commission president.

This article was first published by Judy Dempsey’s Strategic Europe which is published under the auspices of Carnegie Europe. More information com be found at

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