It’s hard to say whether Martin Schulz has the slightest chance of becoming President of the European Commission in the wake of the European elections in May 2014 [he announced his candidature on November 3]. But he is making a creed out of it. For the President of the European Parliament, the appointment of the successor to José Manuel Barroso must be “po-lit-i-cised”.

Letting the different parties personalise the campaign, the German Social Democrat is sure, would be the best way to make up for some of the democratic deficit that has seen so much criticism flung at the European Union. To choose a leader, or “top candidate”, capable of fighting in the four corners of the continent for a programme backed by his political grouping would, according to the “Mr Europe” of the SPD, turn out to be the panacea to try to appeal to voters at a time when the extremist parties are likely to make strong showings.

Putting his words into action, Mr Schulz has not waited long to engage in battle on behalf of the Socialists, for whom, if there are no surprises, he should be carrying the flag against the right and the populists of every hue. The Greens, which Daniel Cohn-Bendit is about to abandon, are also part of this logic. They are even trying to organise primaries on the Internet by the end of the year; to carry them out, José Bové of France has linked up with a German ecologist that he crossed paths with more than 30 years ago on the Larzac plateau. Meanwhile the radical left is contemplating choosing as their poster boy the Greek Alexis Tsipras, basher of austerity and the “Men in Black” of the troika sent to Greece by the moneylenders. Among the liberals, several candidates have been lined up, including Olli Rehn, Commissioner for Economic Affairs, and Guy Verhofstadt, one of the federalist figures of the outgoing Parliament.

Unpredictable future

In the European People's Party (EPP), the biggest group in the outgoing Parliament, there is some hesitation. Michel Barnier, the Commissioner for the Internal Market, and Viviane Reding, his colleague in Justice, would both love to receive their group’s blessing. For one as for the other, it would be difficult for the EPP group not to play the game of other European parties, by refusing to put forward a leader to head out on the campaign trail. On the right, however, there will be no decision about the idea before December. And the conservative candidate would, at best, be appointed only in March, a scant two months before the European elections – hence the conflicting opinions on what many regard as an “idea that looks good only at first glance."

Nothing says that the dynamic hoped for by Martin Schulz will run the course he expects

Nothing says that the dynamic hoped for by Martin Schulz will run the course he expects. Certainly, on paper, the European Parliament is expected to elect the president of the European Commission, although it will do that based on a proposal emerging from the heads of state and governments when they meet within the European Council. The latter, though, and starting with Angela Merkel, have not agreed to share their own prerogative. Moreover, they fear losing the upper hand to the European Parliament.

From the ranks of the EPP himself, Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, misses no opportunity to criticise the parliamentary approach defended by Martin Schulz and a number of MEPs. For Van Rompuy it is up to the European Council to oversee the succession of José Manuel Barroso. Not in the running for any post himself, the former Prime Minister of Belgium is worried about a clash between institutions should one personality – Mr Schulz, for example – be able to put together a majority in the next Parliament but not in the European Council. Or vice versa.

Divided opinion

The “parliamentarisation” of European political life is far from meeting with a consensus

The “parliamentarisation” of European political life is far from meeting with a consensus. Should we further politicise, as Martin Schulz wishes, an institution such as the Commission, which is meant to work in the general interest, above partisan considerations? It’s not so clear. The European “Executive” is certainly in a paradoxical situation: marginalised by the chaotic management of the crisis by the Eurozone governments and the European Central Bank, at the same time it has gained new powers to better control the member states. The election of its chairman at the conclusion of a pan-European campaign could, suggest the backers of this idea, restore the legitimacy of an institution battered as never before.

However, the College of Commissioners is already a multi-party team, based on the balance of power of the forces in Europe today and on the political majorities in each of the member states. And it is meant to operate in the strictest neutrality. If overly politicised, its independence and its impartiality could not fail to draw serious criticism.

It is impossible to imagine a leftist government in France accepting unblinkingly the recommendations of a right-leaning Commission. That is already the case, and might be even more so if the dream of Martin Schulz, or of Michel Barnier, were to become a reality.