Per this article:

Frans Timmermans, a self-confessed anglophile who is fluent in seven languages, appears to be in pole position to head the commission from 1 November as leaders meet on Sunday evening in Brussels.

His candidacy was given a boost over the weekend by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who said Timmermans, the Socialists and Democrats nominee for the post, or the German centre-right MEP Manfred Weber would be “part of the solution”.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has opposed Weber’s claim to the role as group leader of the European People’s party (EPP), the largest group in the European parliament.

According to the Spitzenkandidat system, which got Juncker his job in 2014, the leader of the largest EU party should end up head of the European Commission. That would mean Weber.

I kind of get that there's some tug of war in the air, in the sense that the Council, rather than the Parliament, gets to decide who ends up leading the Commission. And that if the Council bows to the Parliament and goes with the Spitzenkandidat again, this will set enough of a precedent that the pressure will be very high that they continue to do so in the future.

I also understand that Weber isn't commanding a solid majority of the Council for some reason. (I've seen lack of experience cited once or twice, but that struck me as hogwash. I might be wrong in my gut assessment though.)

What I don't understand is:

  • Why is Weber, the natural incumbent, not commanding a solid majority in the Council?
  • Why is Macron in particular not fond of the idea of Weber at the Commission's helm?

Have there been any public statements, veiled but arguably obvious statements, or at worst some good analysis about the reasoning behind those two questions in recent months?

  • 2
    I think that the issue is primarily that of one side wanting to maintain the status quo (Merkel) and the other wanting to use this opportunity for reform (Macron).
    – zeroone
    Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 18:12
  • @zeroone: But if that's really the case wouldn't it make more sense for Macron to openly back Guy Verhofstadt? Commented Jun 30, 2019 at 19:17
  • It's just a hypothesis given the circumstances. With the Parliament's grand coalition gone, and with Mr. Macron essentially leading the third-largest faction, he is well-placed to interrupt the Spitzenkandidat system. But equally, I would say with fair certainty, that Mr. Verhofstadt would not get the backing of Germany or the U.K. under any circumstance, so there's little point in trying.
    – zeroone
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 5:10
  • @zeroone Reform in the direction several countries don't want to go, which is why Macron's favorite - Timmermans - is being opposed as well.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 19:26

1 Answer 1


I think you are misunderstanding the Spitzenkandidat system.

  • The Parliament confirms the President of the Commission. On order to prevent backroom deals, several significant parties vowed to confirm only a candidate who had been the leading candidate of a party grouping.
  • They did not vow that they would confirm only the leading candidate of the largest party grouping. Instead, the party groupings will have to form a coalition that commands a majority of the votes in the parliament.

Having the most MEPs certainly helps in building a majority coalition, but it is not the only thing that matters.

  • Weber is a candidate from the center-right EPP. To the political right of the EPP are a number of nationalist parties who are seen as unsuitable for coalitions by the center.
  • Timmermans is a candidate from the center-left PES. To the political left of the PES are a number of socialist and environmentalist parties who are seen as difficult but suitable for coalitions by the center.

On top of that comes the dynamic between the heads of government who must nominate the President, "taking the election results into account." This is a mix of nationalist preferences and party preferences.

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