Michel Barnier (left) and Jean-Claude Juncker (right) (Image: Thierry Monasse/Getty Images/Kyodo News via Getty Images)
Who gets one of the bloc’s most coveted jobs could depend on which party comes out on top in the European election, which is being billed as a contest between pro- and anti-EU forces. Mr Macron stopped short of openly backing Mr Barnier but gave his implicit support for his fellow Frenchmen. The French President told Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper: “Undeniably, Michel Barnier is a man who has great qualities and he has again demonstrated this in the way he handles negotiations with the British. He is therefore among the European leaders who have eminent qualities and who can be part of this list of candidates for key EU jobs.
“In my opinion, experience at the highest level of government or the European Commission is indisputably an important criterion. A more or less long experience because I want all generations to be represented.”
Mr Macron’s call for an “experienced” Commission chief, however, rules out current favourite Manfred Weber, 46, the “spitzenkandidat” – or lead candidate – for the European People’s Party (EPP).
The spitzenkandidat system, used just once before in 2014, envisions that the European Council put forward the nominee of the party that wins the most seats in the European parliament elections, which are being held across the bloc between May 23-26.
But the EU Council has insisted that it cannot be bound by the process, as has Mr Macron, who has repeatedly said European leaders – and not lawmakers – should decide who replaces the Commission’s outgoing chief, Jean-Claude Juncker.