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With the European elections behind us, speculations in Brussels turn to the question of what the future leadership of the European Union will look like. New Presidents need to be picked for the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament and a new High Representative for Foreign Affairs needs to be named. Add to this a new head of the ECB, and the table is set for the new leadership.

Deciding on these positions is like trying to lay a great and very difficult puzzle, a puzzle in which the pieces seem to change shape every now and again.

When laying down the Grand Puzzle of the future European leadership, several key factors need to be taken into account. Apart from the issues of personality and backing – or opposition –  from different Member States, three specific factors are crucial:


It is important that the new leadership has geographical balance. This means that candidates for the top positions will ideally represent both the East and West, North and South of Europe.


The topic of gender distribution is ever more important, and at least one if not two of the top positions are expected to be filled by female politicians. Having more than one woman in top positions would be a first for the EU.

Political affiliation

When distributing the top positions it is essential that not all of them go to the same political family. In the past EPP and S&D – the two largest political groups – distributed the top jobs between themselves. Now however, both Liberals and Greens also want to claim top positions.

The practicalities

Two additional factors add to the complexity: direct influence and national situations. For the direct influence, the Grand leadership puzzle of Europe is complicated by the fact that while all the pieces need to fit together, they are selected by different entities.

The European Commission President is formally put forward by the Council, and then approved by the Parliament. The President of the Council is selected only by the Council, just like Parliament’s President is officially only selected by Parliament. The High Representative on Foreign Affairs is chosen by qualified majority in the Council, but as a Commissioner she/he will also have to be approved by the Parliament.

National situations

As if the puzzle was not already difficult enough, several Member States manage to add an extra level of complexity to the game. With new governments only just being formed or still waiting to be formed, it is unclear exactly with whom one should negotiate. This is even more complex by the threat of new governments falling or elections being called in the period when the leadership chosen.

Does it even matter ?

Yes it does. Which puzzle pieces the Heads of Government choose in the end is important for anyone dealing with or being affected by EU-policy. Not just because, as most people in Brussels will tell you, the leadership choices will determine style, priorities and direction for EU-politics for years to come. Nor is it because the top jobs are about national prestige and personal glory. 

It is important to follow, because it is the first sign of the new balance of power in Brussels. If all posts still go to the EPP and S&D, or to the same countries as before, has anything really changed?

If, on the other hand, there are changes to the norm, this will be the first real proof of a shift coming to Brussels. It will take us from speculation and rumors to facts and reality.

Lastly, this is the first hurdle that needs to be cleared for the new era of European politics. Overcoming it will be seen as a good omen, whereas failing will not bode well for a Europe that still needs to deal with Brexit, internal divisions and external pressure.


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