by N. Peter Kramer
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have put forward the former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt as President of the Conference on the Future of the EU. The question of who will chair this conference is the final stumbling block to starting the Conference and to involving EU citizen participation. The European Parliament’s choice for the leading role is MEP Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian Prime Minister and former President of the Liberals in the EP. However, for a large group of EU member states he is a bridge too far. Verhofstadt is a staunch supporter of a federal Europe with all powers concentrated in Brussels and the EU member states effectively demoted to EU provinces.
The Conference is an idea of the French President, who wants to use the results in his reelection campaign in 2022. In their search for ’an eminent European personality able to represent the common interest of the three EU institutions ’, Merkel and Macron came to Helle Thorning-Schmidt. The Social Democrat was Prime Minister of Denmark from 2011 to 2015. Her name had already circulated in 2014 to succeed Herman van Rompuy as President of the European Council, but the choice was Donald Tusk, member of the EPP!
The question now is how will the EP react? The Social Democrats will support their fellow party member, while the EPP will not fight for Verhofstadt. Macron can push his Danish candidate within the Liberal group, Renew. It will be the second time that the French President repudiates Verhofstadt. He already sidelined the Belgian after 10 years as President of the Liberals in the EP. Macron changed then also the name of the liberal group, from ALDE to the more dynamic Renew.