More than 200m of the 400m people entitled to vote in last week’s European elections did so. This marks a substantial increase in turnout since 2014, up from 43% to 51%. The extent to which their views influence the makeup of the executive selected to lead the EU for the next five years remains to be seen.
The term of European parliament president Antonio Tajani ends in July. Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and ECB bank president Mario Draghi step aside in October while European Council president Donald Tusk will move on the following month.
This all-male quartet runs the EU. Tajani, Juncker, and Tusk manage at least 43,000 employees. They set the legislative agenda that shapes, partially at least, the lives of 513m Europeans. They decide how the EU will use its seven-year €1tn budget.
As well as trying to square the Brexit circle or is that the other way around? They mediate between EU institutions and 28 members. Draghi sets monetary policy for the 19 euro nations. These are powerful figures and they, or at least their offices, are likely to become more so.
Despite that, none of these roles are chosen by EU citizens. MEPs are the only EU politicians endorsed through elections. The four top jobs are in the gift of their peers in a politicised and all-too-mysterious process.
EU leaders met in Romania this month to set priorities, including leadership, until 20224. The Irish interest focuses on two individuals. Agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan who, it has been suggested, will be reappointed.
Mairead McGuinness, re-elected on a first count vote of 134,630, is a strong contender to succeed Tajani even if on a shared basis. She has been first vice president since 2017 and a member since 2004 so her candidacy is valid. It will benefit from her firm, clear confrontation of the wildest extremes of Brexit.
Though it was reported yesterday that Ireland is likely to back Michel Barnier to replace Juncker matters are far from clear. EU leaders met in Brussels yesterday to continue discussions on who should lead the EU but no decisions were anticipated. Ireland’s support moved to Barnier after German Manfred Weber’s bid wilted in the face of French opposition.
The Government here was, officially at least, backing Weber “to the hilt” and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has repeatedly expressed his support. The picture is further complicated by growing opposition to the spitzenkandidat process whereby blocs nominate a candidate. Opponents say this process disadvantages candidates from smaller nations.
The process is so remote, so clouded that it struggles to resonate in the everyday. There is one candidate however, who has shown an enthusiasm for challenging the great forces of our time — multinationals determined to minimise tax bills.
Margrethe Vestager from Denmark seems committed to the ideals most Europeans want to see made real. Her elevation might accelerate the renewal of the EU. If she is ignored it will raise questions around how those corporations she has challenged may have brought influence to bear. A suspicion, if it can be that, which seems another good reason to make this entire process far more transparent.