Martin Schulz

Gideon Rachman

Jean-Claude Juncker (Getty)

The fact that the leaders of the 28 EU nations are not rushing to appoint Jean-Claude Juncker as the next head of the European Commission is being denounced in the European Parliament – and elsewhere – as an affront to democracy. After all, say the parliamentarians, the main pan-European parties in the European elections all nominated leading candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) – who were their standard-bearers and nominees to be head of the European Commission. The poor-old voters were told that, if the centre-right EPP came out ahead, then Mr Juncker of Luxembourg was the chosen one. The EPP have now duly emerged as the biggest bloc and yet European political leaders are not leaping to appoint Juncker. No wonder the voters are bitterly disillusioned, and Euroscepticism is on the march!

Well, that’s the argument, anyway. But it needs to be pointed out that the idea that the European electorate has just risen up – en masse – and demanded that Jean-Claude Juncker should be their leader is laughable nonsense. 

Gideon Rachman

Guy Verhofstadt (Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP/Getty)

The three main candidates to be the next head of the European Commission are now clear: Martin Schulz will be the left’s candidate; Guy Verhofstadt will be the standard-bearer for the liberals; and Jean-Claude Juncker will be the candidate of the centre-right, having apparently secured the all-important backing of Angela Merkel. (The German chancellor’s office has declined to confirm officially that Merkel is backing Juncker – but press reports, including in the FT, seem pretty certain.)

The most striking thing about this list is how very traditional it is. The EU has just been through a wrenching crisis that has raised questions about its very survival. And it is also now a club of 28 countries. But the three main candidates for Commission president are all traditional European federalists – drawn from the six founding member states.