The appearance of the first formal candidate in the EU top jobs derby on Friday clarified little about who will run the place a year from now.
But the surprise entry of Manfred Weber — a Bavarian politician without much relevant job experience or name recognition outside Brussels — brought home one salient reality about the campaign now taking shape: Coalition-building, more than the outcome of European parliamentary elections or the preferences of powerful EU leaders, is what now matters.
There are a couple of reasons for this changed dynamic. No political group, including Weber’s once dominant center-right European People’s Party, polls over 30 percent, heralding a messy outcome in next spring’s poll. Euroskeptics are on the rise, giving establishment groups more reason to join forces. And no one agrees on precisely how the Commission presidency that Weber wants — or the other open seats atop the European Council, the European Central Bank or the EU’s diplomatic service — will be filled, making it easier to improvise.
As a result, Europe looks to be headed for something resembling an American brokered convention, or make that an Arabic souk, where backroom haggling will be decisive. On current vote projections, it’ll likely take at least three parties to join forces to win the Parliament’s support for a new Commission president. “There’s going to have to be some kind of coalition government, coalition Commission after the election,” said an official at the headquarters of Weber’s EPP.
And when the dust settles and Weber or someone else has their feet under the 13th floor desk in the Berlaymont building, it’ll be time for whatever coalition got them there to move on to decide on the other EU jobs up for grabs in 2019, starting with the presidency of the European Council.