President of the European Commission

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President of the
European Commission
Ursula von der Leyen
Acting EU Commission President
Ursula von der Leyen
since December 1, 2019
Official seat Berlaymont building ,
Brussels , BelgiumBelgiumBelgium 
Term of office 5 years
Chairman of European Commission (currently: " Commission von der Leyen ")
Appointed Nominated by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament
Deputy First Vice President
European Commission headquarters in Brussels (Berlaymont building).
The European Commission logo at the entrance to the Berlaymont building (stylized reference to the building).

The President of the European Commission is the Chairman of the European Commission . He is nominated by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament for five years. It provides the guidelines for the commission's work and is intended to ensure that the commission's work is organized in an effective and collegial manner. As head of the executive , his office can be compared to that of a head of government at the national level. The current incumbent is Ursula von der Leyen .


As part of his organizational powers, the Commission President directs the work of the Commission and convenes the meetings of the College. According to Article 17 (6) of the EU Treaty , it lays down “the guidelines according to which the Commission carries out its tasks”; so he has a policy authority . He also decides on the areas of responsibility of the commission members, which he can reassign during the term of office, and appoints the vice-presidents of the commission . He can also dismiss individual members of the commission.

The President of the Commission has certain restrictions in the exercise of his powers vis-à-vis the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy . Although this is also a member of the Commission and is therefore subject to the President's authority to issue directives, the President cannot assign the High Representative to any other portfolio; in addition, the High Representative is, in principle, one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. However, the President of the Commission has the option of dismissing the High Representative as well as other Commissioners.

In contrast to national heads of government, who usually have the competence to appoint the ministers of their government themselves, the Commission President has only limited powers in the selection of commissioners. Rather, the number of commissioners is basically fixed at one commissioner per country. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is nominated by the European Council ; the other commissioners are proposed by the national governments of the member states and nominated by the Council of the European Union by qualified majority. Although the President of the Commission can object to the appointment of a Commissioner, the government's proposals are normally accepted. The commissioners therefore mostly come from the parties that make up the government in their respective countries. Once the Commission has been nominated, it must be confirmed by the European Parliament .

At the same time, the European Council, with the consent of the Commission President, decides which of the Commissioners is to assume the office of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; he is also one of the vice-presidents of the commission. After the nomination of the candidates, the Commission President can independently allocate the remaining departments, and he can also appoint other Vice-Presidents from among the Commissioners. The Commission President can change the layout and distribution of the departments at any time.

After the nomination, the newly elected European Parliament questions the candidates in detail and issues an opinion, which the Commission as a whole (but not individual Commissioners) can accept or reject. After Parliament has given its approval, the Commission is appointed by the European Council by qualified majority.

The European Commission is represented by its President at the meetings of the European Council, the Group of the Eight Leading Industrialized Nations ( G8 ) and at the meetings of the European Parliament.


The top candidates of the European party families in the TV duel for the 2019 European elections in the converted Strasbourg plenary hall

The President of the European Commission will in each case after the European elections by the European Council with a qualified majority, proposed and then the European Parliament elected by an absolute majority of members. According to Article 17 (7) of the EU Treaty , the European Council must take into account the result of the European elections. If the nominated candidate does not achieve the necessary majority in Parliament, the European Council must propose a new candidate within one month using the same procedure. If Parliament has approved the candidate, he is Commission President-designate, but not yet in office. After the subsequent nomination of the other commissioners, the commission as a whole must again face a vote of approval by the European Parliament and is then appointed by the European Council with a qualified majority. Only with this appointment does the new Commission President take up his post.

The term of office of the President of the Commission corresponds to the terms of office of the European Parliament, which is usually five years. According to Art. 234 TFEU, an early dismissal of the Commission President is only possible through a vote of no confidence by the European Parliament against the entire Commission. If such a vote of no confidence comes from two thirds of the members of parliament, the president and the other commissioners must resign. A new commission is then appointed, whose term of office lasts until the date on which the term of office of the removed committee would have lasted, i.e. H. until a new commission is appointed after the next European elections.

The election of a Commission President is often preceded by a lengthy dispute over possible candidates between the heads of government and the European Parliament and coalition negotiations between the major European parties . The European Council also generally prefers a personality with personal experience as a head of government; unlike the European Parliament up to now, the European Council is not necessarily interested in a “strong” personality with distinct ideas about the development of the Union. In this way, the heads of government in the European Council themselves could possibly call into question the direction in which they should take action. In the run-up to the 2009 European elections , a campaign was launched for the European parties to pre-nominate candidates for the office of Commission President ( see below ).

In the European elections in 2014 , most of the European party families for the first time put up official “Spitzenkandidaten” in order to illustrate the influence of voters on the most important office in the EU. Intergroups agreed that Parliament would not accept any proposal for the Commission Presidency that had not previously run as a top candidate. Accordingly, the top candidate of the strongest party, Jean-Claude Juncker ( EPP ), was elected president. There were efforts in the EU Parliament to make this Spitzenkandidaten principle binding in EU electoral law.

After the European elections in 2019 , however, contrary to this principle, the European Council did not nominate any of the official top candidates of the European party families, as there was no majority for any of the candidates despite weeks of deliberations. Although the European People's Party had become the strongest parliamentary group, its top candidate Manfred Weber encountered strong headwinds among the heads of government: In addition to Hungary and Poland (who disliked his previously tough line against their right-wing conservative governments), in particular, French President Emmanuel Macron , who Weber soon followed had publicly described the election as unsuitable: On the one hand, Macron did not trust him to implement his initiative for Europe , and on the other hand, he doubted the personal suitability of Weber, who had never held a government office and does not speak French. Instead, the European Council finally proposed Ursula von der Leyen to the European Parliament , who, although she also comes from the EPP (and from Germany), had not stood as a candidate in the EU election. This has been seen by some commentators and groups in the European Parliament as a democratic step backwards. Many MPs (especially from the ranks of the Greens, but also the German SPD) then refused to support her, pointing out this fact. Nevertheless, after long consultations with the parliamentary groups, in which von der Leyen also promised to revive the revised top candidate principle, it was elected with a narrow majority on July 16, 2019. In retrospect, some observers also assessed the outcome of the process as a consequence of the European Parliament's inability to signal a clear majority for one of the top candidates, unlike in 2014. Instead, all the major factions had insisted on their own candidate until the end, effectively taking themselves out of the game.


1951 to 1967

Walter Hallstein , the first commission president

The current office of President of the European Commission goes back to the office of President of the three commissions. This includes the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), since 1951. It was called the Commission from the start . The European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and European Economic Community (EEC), newly founded in 1958 , each had their own commission with its own president.

The powers of the early Commission presidents differed from those of today in a number of areas. At first he was only primus inter pares within the commission ; he chaired the meetings, but had no policy authority and could not dismiss the other commissioners. The Commission's decisions were generally based on the principle of collegiality . In addition, the term of office of the Commission and its President was not contractually defined; instead, they were each appointed by the Council of Ministers for an ad hoc period . The European Parliament was initially not involved in the selection of candidates.

Despite their formally less competencies, the first commission presidents had a great influence. Often it was a question of prominent personalities who were seen as representatives of the European idea of ​​unification and a European common good above national interests. The first President of the High Authority of the ECSC was Jean Monnet , who himself had played a key role in the Schuman Plan for the establishment of the ECSC. The first president of the EEC Commission was Walter Hallstein , who, as confidante of Konrad Adenauer and State Secretary in the Foreign Office, had played a central role at the Messina Conference . In the mid-1960s, however, conflicts arose between the European federalist- oriented Hallstein and the French President Charles de Gaulle, who was more concerned with preserving national sovereignty, about the further development of European integration. As Hallstein ultimately did not find the support of the other heads of state and government in the ensuing crisis of the empty chair , he resigned from his office on June 30, 1967.

1967 to 1993

Jacques Delors had a decisive influence on the office

This period includes the Commission of the European Communities . Hallstein's resignation coincided with the unification of the three commissions of ECSC, EEC and Euratom by the merger agreement . Although the area of ​​responsibility of the new Commission, which was now called the "Commission of the European Communities" or "European Commission", and its President were formally expanded, the influence of the following Commission Presidents tended to decline. Most of the time their terms of office were short; they have been displaced from public attention by the new summit meetings of the European heads of state and government in the European Council . In addition, the 1970s and early 1980s represented a phase of crisis for European integration (so-called Eurosclerosis ). Various initiatives by Roy Jenkins (Commission President 1977–1981) to revive integration failed because of Margaret Thatcher's veto in the European Council.

Only after 1984 did the Commission regain a more important role, with Commission President Jacques Delors (1985–1995) playing a central role. Among other things, he initiated the project to complete the European single market by 1993 and proposed the so-called Delors Plan , which laid the basis for the European Economic and Monetary Union agreed in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 .

EU since 1993

The EU treaty reforms in Amsterdam in 1997 and Nice in 2001 strengthened the powers of the Commission President. He now had to approve the appointment of the other committee members, could distribute the departments among them himself and ask them to resign. At the same time, the European Parliament was now involved in the appointment of the President of the Commission, so that from the appointment of the Prodi Commission in 1999, the terms of office of the Commission were merged with those of Parliament.

However, the Commission Presidents who followed Delors could not continue his impetus for a more active role for the European Commission. As the successor to the French Delors, the Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers was initially discussed in 1994 (with British support) (a socialist politician from a large member state should now be followed by a representative of the Christian-Democratic party family, also from a smaller member state). However, Lubbers was rejected by the German side at the relevant personnel consultations in the European Council. The alternative proposal by Chancellor Kohl, the Belgian Prime Minister Wilfried Martens , then failed u. a. at the British veto. The heads of state and government represented in the European Council finally agreed on the compromise candidate Jacques Santer , the Luxembourg Prime Minister.

In 1999, after Jacques Santer's rather lackluster tenure, which ultimately failed due to the corruption scandal surrounding French Commissioner Édith Cresson , the former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was elected President of the Commission. This and his successor, José Manuel Barroso, who was elected in 2004 (since 2004), are often considered to be rather weak Commission presidents.

The appointment of Romano Prodi's successor in 2004 was particularly interesting because important national governments led by social democrats (e.g. under Gerhard Schröder , Tony Blair and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ) faced a clear majority of the conservative European People's Party in the 2004 European elections . Although the European Council was not yet formally obliged to take into account the election results under the EU Treaty, the liberal Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt and the social democratic EU foreign affairs representative Javier Solana , who were temporarily traded as candidates, were considered hopeless from a party-political point of view. After various promising candidates close to the EPP (including the Dutchman Jan Peter Balkenende , the Luxembourgish Jean-Claude Juncker and the Austrian Wolfgang Schüssel and the conservative British foreign commissioner Chris Patten ) had rejected a candidacy, the CDU chairwoman, who was influential in the EPP, suggested Angela Merkel presented the Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Barroso as a candidate, who then found the greatest approval.

In the run-up to the 2009 European elections , a campaign was launched for the candidates for the office of Commission President to be pre-nominated by the European parties in order to offer voters a visible alternative and to reduce the “candidate poker” after the election. This campaign was supported by the Union of European Federalists (UEF) and its youth organization JEF , among others . However, only the EPP announced that it would support a renewed candidacy for Barroso; none of the other parties presented a presidential candidate. At a PES party council meeting, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen's candidacy was discussed, but it failed because of resistance from the social democratic ruling parties in Spain, Portugal and Great Britain, who wanted to hold onto Barroso. It was only after the election that Barroso's re-election, proposed by the European Council, came under heavy criticism, especially from the Greens and the Social Democrats , but also the Liberal factions in the European Parliament . They brought alternative candidates like Guy Verhofstadt into the discussion, but without a majority in favor. After Barroso made concessions to the Social Democrats and Liberals, he was finally confirmed by the European Parliament in September 2009.

The Lisbon Treaty , which came into force in 2009 and took up the content of the failed EU Constitutional Treaty , gave the Commission President the authority to issue guidelines within the Commission. In the negotiations in the European Convention 2002/03, the proposal was also discussed that the Commission President should become the “President of the European Union” and at the same time chair the Commission and the European Council (the so-called “big double hat ”). However, this proposal was ultimately dropped and the new office of President of the European Council was introduced instead . This was often understood as a symbolic weakening of the Commission President, as he - unlike in the early phase of the integration process - would no longer be the only prominent "face" of the European Union. In November 2009, Herman van Rompuy was appointed first President of the Council, standing alongside Commission President Barroso. The EU Treaty does not, however, expressly rule out the possibility that in future the offices of Commission and Council President could be held by the same person in a personal union, if the European Council so decides.

List of presidents

Presidents of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community :

No. Surname Beginning of the term of office Term expires Home state Political party Political Direction
1 Jean Monnet August 10, 1952 June 3, 1955 FranceFrance France - -
2 René Mayer June 3, 1955 January 13, 1958 FranceFrance France SFIO socialist
3 Paul Finet January 13, 1958 September 15, 1959 BelgiumBelgium Belgium - close to the union
4th Piero Malvestiti September 15, 1959 October 22, 1963 ItalyItaly Italy DC Christian Democratic
5 Rinaldo Del Bo October 22, 1963 February 28, 1967 ItalyItaly Italy DC Christian Democratic
6th Albert Coppé March 1, 1967 June 30, 1967 BelgiumBelgium Belgium CVP Christian Democratic

President of the Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community :

No. Surname Beginning of the term of office Term expires Home state Political party Political Direction
1 Louis Armand January 7, 1958 2nd February 1959 FranceFrance France - -
2 Etienne Hirsch 2nd February 1959 January 10, 1962 FranceFrance France - -
3 Pierre Chatenet January 10, 1962 June 30, 1967 FranceFrance France UNR conservative

President of the Commission of the European Economic Community :

No. Surname Beginning of the term of office Term expires Home state Political party Political Direction
1 Walter Hallstein January 10, 1958 June 30, 1967 GermanyGermany Germany CDU Christian Democratic

Presidents of the (merged) Commission of the European Communities or the European Union (European Commission) :

Ursula von der Leyen Jean-Claude Juncker José Manuel Barroso Romano Prodi Manuel Marín (Politiker) Jacques Santer Jacques Delors Gaston Thorn Roy Jenkins François-Xavier Ortoli Sicco Mansholt Franco Maria Malfatti Jean Rey Walter Hallstein
No. Surname Beginning of the term of office Term expires Home state Political party Political direction / European party
1 Jean Rey July 6, 1967 June 30, 1970 BelgiumBelgium Belgium PRL liberal
2 Franco Maria Malfatti July 1, 1970 March 21, 1972 ItalyItaly Italy DC Christian Democratic
3 Sicco Leendert Mansholt March 22, 1972 5th January 1973 NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands PvdA social democratic
4th François-Xavier Ortoli January 6, 1973 5th January 1977 FranceFrance France UDR conservative
5 Roy Jenkins January 6, 1977 5th January 1981 United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom Labor SPE
6th Gaston Thorn January 6, 1981 5th January 1985 LuxembourgLuxembourg Luxembourg DP ELDR
7th Jacques Delors January 6, 1985 January 22, 1995 FranceFrance France PS SPE
8th Jacques Santer January 23, 1995 March 15, 1999 LuxembourgLuxembourg Luxembourg CSV EPP
9 Manuel Marín March 16, 1999 September 15, 1999 SpainSpain Spain PSOE SPE
10 Romano Prodi September 16, 1999 November 21, 2004 ItalyItaly Italy La Margherita EDP
11 José Manuel Barroso November 22, 2004 October 31, 2014 PortugalPortugal Portugal Psd EPP
12 Jean-Claude Juncker November 1, 2014 November 30, 2019 LuxembourgLuxembourg Luxembourg CSV EPP
13 Ursula von der Leyen 1st December 2019 officiating GermanyGermany Germany CDU EPP


  • Simone Staeglich: The President of the Commission as head of the European Union: From primus inter pares to a leading European figure. Writings on European Law Volume 126 . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-428-12373-5 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See Gerhard Brunn, Die Europäische Einigung von 1945 bis today , Bonn 2004, p. 239f. and 251f.
  2. See e.g. B. Salzburger Nachrichten, June 18, 2009: Only a weak president is a good president .
  3. See the campaign homepage .
  4. European Commission: Jean Monnet - Uniting power in the birth of the European Union . In: European Union website . (PDF, 186 kB)
  5. European Commission: Walter Hallstein - Diplomatic Driving Force for Rapid European Integration . In: European Union website . (PDF, 508 kB)
  6. ^ European Commission: Sicco Mansholt - farmer, resistance fighter and a true European . In: European Union website . (PDF, 152 kB)