(Reuters) – Draped down the side of the European Commission’s headquarters, a 13-storey-tall banner urged citizens to vote in the European Parliament elections, proclaiming in English, French and Dutch: “This time it’s different.”
Well maybe, but maybe not.
The unwritten sub-text was that voters would be choosing not just their representatives in the European Union’s legislature but also the next president of the executive Commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws.
A swathe of politicians, including French President Francois Hollande andof the main cross-border European political parties, have said so explicitly. But it ain’t necessarily so.
The banner is part of a power struggle in which parliament is trying to seize control – in the name of democracy – of the nomination of a successor to Jose Manuel Barroso from national leaders, based on an ambiguous clause in the Lisbon Treaty, the updated rules that govern the EU.
The battle broadly pits those who want “more Europe” against those who want to rein in the powers of Brussels and keep the big member states in the driver’s seat.
The treaty says EU leaders propose a candidate “taking into account the elections of the European Parliament” and after appropriate consultation. The EU assembly must approve the nominee by an absolute majority of its 751 members. If not, the procedure starts again within one month.
The tug-of-war begins in earnest on Tuesday when leaders of the parliamentary groups and EU heads of state and government meet separately in Brussels to consider the results of the 28-nation election.
Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz and Guy Verhofstadt, the leading candidates of the centre-right, Socialist and liberal political groups respectively, have been criss-crossing Europe for weeks addressing rallies and have agreed in principle to support whichever one of them tops the poll.
“One of the candidates here will be the next president of the European Commission,” Schulz said during a live television debate among the frontrunners or “Spitzenkandidaten”, declaring that the era of back-room deals was over.