In less than one week’s time, on 26 August, Belgium together with other member states of the European Union must present the new president-elect of the EU Commission with two names, one of whom will be selected to be the new Commission, to sit if all goes well until 2024. At the moment, the front runner appears to be senior politician Didier Reynders (MR).
Belgium is currently one of five member states of the EU – now reduced to 27 by the impending departure of the United Kingdom – which have still to nominate a commissioner. Or rather two commissioners, because as political expert Steven Van Hecke of the university of Leuven points out in Terzake on the VRT, each member state presents two names, one man and one woman, to the new Commission president, the German Ursula von der Leyen, for her consideration.
Reynders (photo), according to Van Hecke, has the best chance of being named, given that he is not only close to prime minister Charles Michel, but was unsuccessfully nominated in 2014, and recently failed to win the post as president of the Council of Europe. It is clearly felt that Reynders, currently busy with Flemish socialist Johan Vande Lanotte with making the preparatory rounds of the parties with a view to forming a new federal government, has a senior job coming to him.
However his passage could be hampered by two things. In the first place other parties could find it too much for one senior MR figure to occupy a seat on the Commission while another – Michel himself – holds the presidency of the European Council. Secondly, there is the question of whether a caretaker government, which holds only 35 seats in a federal parliament of 150 seats, can be allowed to make a decision so far-reaching in the first place.
There is also the fact that a woman must also be named, but that is an issue that faces all male nominees from all member states.
Other names that have been mooted recently include Kris Peeters, former Flemish minister-president and federal minister; Gwendolyn Rutten, the relatively inexperienced president of Open VLD; and Marianne Thyssen, who currently holds the post since 2014. Peeters would be in direct competition for the nomination with Reynders, and his chances there look less than certain. If Thyssen leaves, the most likely result is that she will be replaced with a French-speaker. Rutten could be nominated alongside Reynders in order to fulfil the need for a woman’s name, but she stands virtually no chance of being appointed.
Charles Michel is due to start informal talks this week with party representatives, and the word is that the decision could be made rapidly. In 2014, Thyssen was only nominated after an extension was granted, until 4 September.