June 25, 2019
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EU elections kick off year of comprehensive leadership change for the bloc

 Supporters stand in rain while holding a huge EU flag during a Alliance 2020 USR + PLUS rally for European Parliament elections held at Izvor Park, in downtown Bucharest, Romania, May 24, 2019. EPA-EFE/ROBERT GHEMENT

Supporters stand in rain while holding a huge EU flag during a Alliance 2020 USR + PLUS rally for European Parliament elections held at Izvor Park, in downtown Bucharest, Romania, May 24, 2019. EPA-EFE/ROBERT GHEMENT

By Catalina Guerrero

Madrid, May 25 (efe-epa).- Every five years the European Union's institutions go through a process of renewal and this year it kicks off with the European Parliament elections as voters across the bloc elect members to the 751-seat chamber, the results of which are expected on May 26.

However, the elections are just the starting whistle for an extended process of change. By the end of 2019, there will be new faces at the helm of the European Commission, the European Council and the Central European Bank.

On May 28, once the results from this weekend's voting are clear, the current president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, is set to host a summit that will set out the groundwork for the reshuffle of the EU's supranational institutions.

In early July, MEPs will convene to elect a new European Parliament president, a post that is at present held by Antonio Tajani, an Italian.

Later that same month, lawmakers will meet again, this time to confirm the new European Commission president.

Once he or she has been appointed, the Commission president-designate will choose 29 commissioners, all of whom will have to face hearings in Parliament before they can be admitted to their post, a process which should conclude by the end of October.

After that, EU heads of state and government will designate a future president of the European Council, a term that lasts two and a half years and can be renewed only once.

In what is a busy year for the bloc, the Council will also have to appoint a new leader at the European Central Bank, given that Mario Draghi's eight-year tenure is up.

Who, exactly, will take on those roles will depend on the outcome of the parliamentary ballot being held this weekend.

Polling for the elections suggests the chamber is braced for a wave of populist right-wing forces, including a number of eurosceptic parties.

Yet, while these parties are predicted to bag better results than they did back in 2014, their influence in the Parliament could be tempered by disparate policies hindering the formation of a congruous populist coalition.

At the moment, populists, both on the right and the left, are spread across four groups in the European Parliament: the European Conservatives and Reformist Group (ERC) with 77 MEPs, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) with 52, the right-wing Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) with 42 and the far-right, eurosceptic Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) with 36.

What is almost certain is that this year's election will put an end to the bipartisan dominance of the center-right European People's Party (EPP) and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), which look set to take a significant blow to their combined 403 seats in the chamber – a governing coalition requires 353 seats.

The key, then, could lie with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), which could take up to 100 seats if Spain's Ciudadanos fairs better than in previous years and France's La Republique en Marche – the party of the French president, Emmanuel Macron – joins the group.

Should these three mainstream groups come out dominant from the elections, the process of electing members of the EU's institutions, which up until now was shared largely between the EPP and the S&D, could become a little more complicated.

All three parties are likely to want to appoint their own candidates to take on the EU's senior positions.

Towards the end of 2018, the main political groups named a candidate, known as a spitzenkandidat, that they would like to see take on the role of European Commission president. ALDE published a list of candidates.

Normally the candidate who can secure a majority in the chamber takes on the role, as was the case with Jean-Claude Juncker, the current chief of the Commission, back in 2014.

The battle for the Council is also more animated that in 2014, since in its current composition there are nine heads of state and government affiliated with the EPP, eight with ALDE, five with the S&D, two with the CRE, one with the GUE/NGL, two are independent and one, Italy, is hard to pin down.

The Commission, too, will need some sort of balance when commissioner and director general posts are allocated.

Until now there have been unwritten rules when carrying out the process, which respect the subtle balance of political power and the geographical balance of the EU's member states according to the size of a country, its history and its location on the continent.

These negotiations are tricky with two major parties. With three, they will be even more complex.EFE

cat/jt

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