THE European Union today is a different one from the EU the UK left in 2019, with the war in Ukraine and the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic spurring on a significant amount of change in a short time.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything the current EU Commission president Dr Ursula von der Leyen has said or done, but I did vote for her (against the majority of the Green/EFA Group in the European Parliament in 2019, it has to be said) so I feel somewhat invested in how she has done and I think it is broadly positive.

Given the challenges the EU has faced, her administration has done a heck of a job in bringing together 27 member states to find solutions to challenges which have thrown several other democracies off course.

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With the European Parliament elections coming up, there is fevered speculation about whether Von der Leyen will run again for the role, and how she would do that if she does – or, if she does not, who is likely to run instead.

The importance of the Commission president cannot be understated. They head up the College of Commissioners, who are all proposed by their member states then vetted by the European Parliament, which votes to approve or reject them as a bloc.

The Commission is the only EU institution with the ability to propose laws to the Parliament and the European Council (the body I discussed in my column last week) – but, crucially, cannot pass any without the consent of both institutions.

The Commission president also acts as the face of the EU to both its citizens and the wider world, and their cabinet implements and influences the policy agenda for the next term of the European Parliament.

Previously, the role was decided solely by the member states. More recently, a convention has emerged whereby the candidate for EU Commission president is the leader of the parliamentary group which wins the European elections. This process (because they couldn’t find a simple name) is known as Spitzenkandidat.

Article 17 (7) of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty – which is so opaquely drafted it might as well be in invisible ink – introduced the idea that the European Council would “take into account the elections to the European Parliament” when proposing a candidate for Commission president.

In the 2014 European elections, the Spitzenkandidat process was introduced and explained in advance for the first time, on the basis that it would help stop the declining turnout for parliamentary elections through having transnational candidates across the European political families, as well as promoting democratic accountability to the role.

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It is telling that no UK party (including the SNP and Plaid Cymru) paid the exercise much heed. Five candidates were nonetheless put forward from the European People’s Party (EPP); the Socialists and Democrats (S&D): the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE); the European Green Party and the Party of the European Left.

The EPP won the most seats, so their Spitzenkandidat, Jean-Claude Juncker, was proposed by the European Council to be the Commission president, a decision which was agreed to by the European Parliament.

In the 2019 elections, the European parties put forward Spitzenkandidaten again – but were aware of comments by then-Council president Donald Tusk that there was “no automaticity” in the process by which the European Council proposes a candidate for commission president. Consequently, although the EPP were again the largest party, the European Council refused to put forward their Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber, instead agreeing on a compromise by proposing Von der Leyen, whose CDU/CSU party was a member of the EPP.

(There was also some concern in some national capitals about Weber’s lack of experience in a national parliament. And unlike in 2014, there was no endorsement from other political groups for Weber’s candidacy.)

Now, as our friends on the continent face European Parliament elections again later this year, the focus has returned to the Spitzenkandidat process. None of the other parties has confirmed its candidates yet, but it is widely expected that they will have one to put forward.

Who these candidates will be is still to be confirmed but if, as is widely expected, Von der Leyen does engineer a way to run for the Parliament (presumably in Germany for the CDU), she will almost certainly be the Spitzenkandidat for the EPP.

In the S&D, Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit is running to be their lead candidate but, if the polls remain as they are, the EPP will almost certainly be the largest party again, opening up the strong possibility of a second Von der Leyen term as Commission president.

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This has ramifications for us in Scotland who are working towards securing an independent country back in the European Union.

The current Commission has shown an open willingness to push on with the accession process in neighbouring countries as well as reform the wider structures of the European Union to ensure that one country can’t stop it from acting quickly in times of crisis.

A second such commission which is looking to expand the EU bodes well for us in the independence movement, whereby an independent Scotland can be a vital and reliable economic, energy and security partner in the north Atlantic.

As such, it’s important that we maintain our ties with Brussels so that when that moment comes, we’ll be ready for it.