Choosing Mr. Europe

BRUSSELS – America’s riveting presidential election campaign may be garnering all the headlines, but a leadership struggle is also underway in Europe. Right now, all eyes are on the undeclared frontrunners to become the first appointed president of the European Council.

Nobody – not even people closely involved in the process – really knows how the European Union’s leaders are chosen. There are no formal rules, much less elections; somehow, names just surface in the media to become part of the EU’s mysterious internal bargaining system.

In fact, there are five jobs up for grabs, so a complex but secretive discussion is being conducted between Europe’s chancelleries over who might do what without disturbing the delicate balances between political families or between large and small states.

At the heart of this process is the even touchier issue of whether the people who will take charge of the EU’s main institutions should be strong leaders. In principle, everyone wants heavy-hitters; in practice, many national leaders resist the idea of a more independent and assertive team in Brussels.