The European Commission’s odd way of picking its president

WHAT is the best way to enrage a European diplomat? (This is not an attempt at a joke.) You could suggest that his or her government pay more into the European Union budget, or accept a diktat from Brussels to take in more refugees. Urging a speedier cut in national budget deficits rankles in some countries; pressing for more defence spending irritates others. But this week, at least, the most reliable method for inducing puce-faced rage in the Brussels diplomatic corps has been to utter the word Spitzenkandidaten. It falls upon them like a curse.

This frightening-sounding German word translates as “top candidates”, and refers to a method of choosing the president of the European Commission, perhaps the most powerful job in the Brussels firmament. It works like this. Before the election to the European Parliament, the chamber’s political groupings—agglomerations of national parties from across the EU—each nominates a candidate for the commission post. They agree that…

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