The battle lines are already drawn between the pro-EU forces still basking in the election victory of Emmanuel Macron and the populist surge witnessed in recent elections in Austria, Hungary and Italy. If further proof was needed of their importance, and how the immigration issue will dominate the campaign, look no further than the decision by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, to launch a movement to try and unite the far-right, populist forces into a coherent bloc.
The stakes are high. Not only will these elections choose 701 MEPs (reduced by Brexit from the current 751) but also set in motion the appointment of the key EU leaders for the next five years. Directly linked to the election result is the election of the President of the European Commission, who in theory should come from the political group that wins the most seats across Europe. The problem with this new practice of lead candidate, more commonly known by its German name Spitzenkandidat, is that the traditional parties of right and left (EPP and Socialists) are likely to take a beating in the polls in the face of new, disruptive parties. Political leaders might want more leeway in finding a compromise candidate who can bring the pro-EU factions together. Whoever is finally chosen (and could we see a woman take the role for the first time) they will need to already present their priorities to the European Parliament by mid-July 2019, which will be announced in more detail in October once the whole college of 27 Commissioners is sworn in.
A new president will also be needed to replace Donald Tusk and manage an increasingly truculent European Council making up the 27 Prime Ministers and Heads of State. They too will have their work cut out agreeing on priorities and the areas where they feel the EU should act and policies which should be left to the national level. With over 10 national elections due between now and end 2019, the political balance in this exclusive club will continue to evolve. Appointing a new president of the European Central Bank is also fraught with difficulties, finding someone who can at the same time placate the French and Italians as well as reassure the Germans and Dutch. A new EU Foreign Minister will complete the game of musical chairs.
We have produced two infographics to help steer your way through the next 18 months until the new Commission takes office end 2019. The first deals with the short-term timetable adopted by the political groups to elect their lead candidate (Spitzenkandidat) and their election manifestos. We should have a good idea by Christmas who the key players will be, although the Liberals have decided to keep us in suspense until February before they make their choice (more time to woo Macron perhaps?). The manifestos of the leading parties should give us a first glimpse of what is likely to be in the 5-year work programme of the future Commission president.
The 2nd timeline identifies the key moments during the campaign and in the changeover period following the election results, mapping out when the key appointments will be made. The whole institutional reshuffle will take up most of 2019 and Brussels will only seriously get back to work in early 2020.