European Commission Presidency

by Henry on June 17, 2004

The heads of government of the various EU member states are meeting together this evening to discuss, among other things, who should replace Romano Prodi as President of the European Commission. It’s an important decision – but there isn’t a clear front-runner. For what it’s worth, my estimate of the various candidates’ chances of getting the nod.

Guy Verhofstadt – Prime Minister of Belgium. Due to be nominated tonight as the ‘official’ compromise candidate by Ireland, which holds the EU presidency. Doesn’t have much of a hope though – Tony Blair has indicated that Verhofstadt would be unacceptable to Britain. He’s too federalist, and was a vocal opponent of the war in Iraq (annoying Italy and Poland too). While Britain could be outvoted in theory, in practice, the opposition of one of the major member states is almost certainly enough to scotch Verhofstadt’s chances.

Jean-Claude Juncker – Prime Minister of Luxembourg. A likely choice – he’s very popular among his fellow heads of government, although the British are a little luke-warm. However, he’s been swearing blue that he’s quite happy in Luxembourg, and doesn’t want the job. There’s a lot of speculation that he might be persuaded to take the Presidency for the good of Europe, but nobody seems to know for sure, and his repeated disavowals have meant that some of his support has shifted elsewhere.

Bertie Ahern – Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland. Another “reluctant” candidate, but one who has apparently been hinting to the back-benchers in his party that he would answer the call if his fellow heads of government insist. However, he may just be trying to deflect criticism by encouraging speculation about his future – his political party has done deplorably badly in recent local and European Parliament elections. Ireland holds the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which means that Ahern has difficulty in promoting himself directly – but he would be an acceptable choice to all the member states, including Britain.

Chris Patten – Commissioner for External Relations. A bit of a dark horse. No-one would have rated his chances much a few days ago – but he’s now emerged as the preferred candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party, the largest party in the European Parliament (EP). The Parliament ratifies the appointment of the Commission President, and votes for the Commission as a whole by a vote of confidence – it has been assiduously trying to push for something vaguely resembling a traditional parliamentary system in the EU, in which the dominant party in the EP would play an important role in deciding on a candidate for the Commission’s Presidency. Given the indecision among the member states over who to go for, the EP may just about get away with it, and in so doing, perhaps set a very important precedent for Parliament-Commission relations. He’s British though, which means that the French and the Germans are likely to oppose him (especially because his French-language skills are at best functional).

Pat Cox – outgoing President of the European Parliament. Cox has made no secret of his ambition for the job, and would be viewed by most member states as a safe pair of hands. However, in the absence of strong support from Ireland or any other member state, his chances are marginal.

Antonio Vittorino – Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs. Universally popular among the member states – and informally viewed by many of them as the best candidate for the job. He’s Portuguese, and the Portuguese government would like to see him in Brussels, both because it would be a coup, and because it would keep him out of national politics in Portugal for a while (he’s the most talented figure in the Socialist opposition). An extremely long shot though; it’s highly unlikely that a Socialist would get the nod, even one like Vittorino who’s well liked by the center-right and liberals.



Maria 06.17.04 at 8:37 pm

I’d love to see Chris Patten in the job. He stands head and shoulders above the rest and could do a lot to restore some dignity and purpose to the position.

Junker and Verhofstadt are as dull as sticks. Pat Cox loves the sound of his own voice. Vittorino is as unlikely as he would be able.

Bertie’s posturing is tiresome and silly. It’s as if he has an invisible Mrs. Doyle beside him; “ah go on. you will, you will, you will, you will, you will.” Will he…?


Giles 06.17.04 at 10:11 pm

I think you’ve left out the names to the two people who want to be President of the EU mostest

Tony Blair and
Jacques Chirac

Personally I think either would be ideal. Im each case making them president would
a) do their own electorate a favor;

b) do the european community a favor since EU countries would no longer be obiliged to declare themselves old/new core/periphery first / second speed Europe but instead could decide issues on the facts;

c) a dangerous melgomaniac would be placed in a position of no influence.

Obviously a rotating presidency would be the ideal solution but….you cant have everything.


eirepol 06.17.04 at 10:42 pm

It’s got to be Patten. Bertie has trouble with English, never mind any other languages. I wouldn’t mind Vittorino but as Henry says it’s unlikely. Verhofstadt looks like Elton John. What a dismal shower!


linca 06.17.04 at 10:59 pm

According to the Canard Enchaîné, Chirac refuses to consider people from countries outside the Schengen organisation – so English and Irish candidates are out.


Bob 06.18.04 at 12:51 am

I am rather getting the impression that Chirac and some of his colleagues would be quite content for the UK to leave the EU but then we were forewarned:

“In a best-selling account of Napoleon’s final days published two years ago, France’s multi-talented foreign minister, Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin, argues that, yes, even today, Napoleon’s defeat ‘shines with an aura worthy of victory.'” – from:


eu insider 06.18.04 at 11:33 am

Chris Patten is by far the best choice. He is highly intelligent, able to run difficult organizations (British Tory Party, Hong Kong), a genuinely nice person. Of course, this being the EU, he won’t be selected. Expect some dull compromise candidate.


Bob 06.20.04 at 3:25 pm

“Former Tory Party chairman Chris Patten has announced he will not now stand for the presidency of the EU’s executive Commission.” – from:

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