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Who Won Europe?

The process of choosing the European Commission’s next president appears to be a conflict between the voice of the people, as expressed in last month’s European Parliament election, and backroom deal-making by governments. But reality is more complex, and the genuine democratic mandate did not go to the election's putative victor.

BRUSSELS – The fight over who will be the European Commission’s next president is heating up. Several European Union leaders were recently spotted in a small rowboat on a Swedish lake, reportedly scheming against the frontrunner, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has launched a public campaign to reassert the right of EU member states’ governments to decide who will occupy the EU’s executive arm.

The process of choosing the Commission’s president appears to be a conflict between the voice of the people, as expressed in the results of last month’s European Parliament election, and backroom deal-making by governments. But reality is more complex, and the genuine democratic mandate did not go to the person who claims to have “won” the election.

In the run-up to the election, the major European party “families” (there are no pan-European parties, only loose alliances of national parties) each nominated a Spitzenkandidat as their choice for President of the European Commission. The center-right European People’s Party, which gained a narrow plurality of 221 seats in the 751-seat parliament, has claimed victory in the election; and many others, including socialists, greens, and liberals, concur that the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat, Jean-Claude Juncker, has a moral right to be selected as President of the Commission.

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