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Later than usual EU elections could have ramifications for Estonian politics too

President of the European Council Charles Michel heading to embrace Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at last October's council meeting, as Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister Xavier Bettel looks on.
President of the European Council Charles Michel heading to embrace Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at last October's council meeting, as Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister Xavier Bettel looks on. Source: SCANPIX / EPA

Estonia's domestic political schedule could be impacted upon by this year's European elections taking place slightly later in the year than has previously been the case.

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) has been named in some media sources in connection with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy post (in effect the EU's foreign policy chief, the position currently occupied by Josep Borrell), and also at home by Jüri Ratas (SDE) in connection with the less lofty commissioner position.

The timing of this year's European elections could also serve to prolong her, and therefore her administration's, life-span in office.

Confirmation of who will be next President of the European Commission, replacing Ursula von der Leyen, will have to wait until September, when the European Parliament reconvenes after a summer break.

That this is the case again relates to the timing of the elections.

Whereas in 2019, and before that in 2014, the European Parliament elections were held in the penultimate week of May, this year Europeans go to the polls June 6-9 (in Estonia polling day is Sunday, June 9 – ed.).

Sources say that this postponement came at the request of a member state, reportedly any one of Portugal, Spain and/or Germany, due to domestic political considerations.

In any case, Prime Minister Kallas, embattled at home, may well have to resign ahead of the process installing her into an EU position.

This would allow a new Estonian administration to nominate her, for instance, to the post of European Commission president – or indeed as European commissioner from Estonia.

Given the deferment of this process to September as noted above, commission candidates are not expected to be presented until the second half of that month.

This could have the effect in turn of virtually guaranteeing the current domestic Estonian administration remains intact through the summer.

Leaders of the EU27 are set to informally discuss the election's results on June 17, while an official European Council meeting takes place June 27-28, at which point, it is expected, the four top EU positions – president of the European Commission (currently von der Leyen as noted), president of the European Parliament (currently Roberta Metsola of Malta), President of the European Council (at present Charles Michel) and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Borell as noted) – will likely be agreed upon.

The parliament and commission presidential posts will be subject to confirmation via a European Parliament full plenary vote.

The European Parliament first convenes after the election on July 16, though for the reasons given the commission president vote is not likely to take place at that point in time.

A source also told ERR that more broadly, the legislature is looking to influence the commission more than it has been doing.

With regard to Kallas and the commission, when the four EU leading position candidates include a head of government (ie. Kallas in Estonia's case), or head of state, who themselves are a member of the European Council (the council being that EU body where leaders meet to set the union's political agenda) heads of government will not be nominated as commissioners.

In short, Kallas could be a candidate for the high representative post, or as Estonia's commissioner, but not both.

Kallas notwithstanding, most names linked with the top positions are Western Europeans – two of them already in office (von der Leyen and Metsola) and who may well continue for a second term.

There are political spectrum considerations at play too, however.

Both von der Leyen and Metsola belong to the center-right European People's Party (EPP), meaning as per custom the remaining two seats would need to be filled by liberal or center-left candidates

Kaja Kallas would qualify on this metric, but then again so would Krišjanis Karinš, Latvia's current foreign minister and former prime minister, not to mention Lithuanian foreign minister, Gabrielus Landsbergis.

Only once the president of the commission has received their approval from the parliament can they begin to deal with the formation of the new European Commission and the member states can start presenting their candidates for the positions of commissioners. Estonia is currently represented by Kadri Simson (Center), who holds the energy portfolio.

The earliest that these commissioner candidates could come before the Parliament is in the October plenary, while the work could go on, depending on how the votes go, through to year end or even beyond.

Indeed, the current commission led by Ursula von der Leyen itself started work on December 1, 2019, precisely because three commissioner candidates did not receive parliamentary approval and the nominating member states thus had to find new candidates.

Uncertainty on this in the current security situation could also be exacerbated by the uncertainty over what will happen concurrently with the U.S. presidential elections, taking place in November, and the swearing-in of the next elected POTUS, in January 2025.

Names reported to be linked with the European Council top job, once current incumbent Charles Michel's term ends, include Portugal's current prime minister, Antonio Costa, Denmark's Mette Frederiksen, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo and Xavier Bettel, current deputy prime minister of Luxembourg. All are seen as being at the left or liberal end of the spectrum.

An explanation of how the various EU institutions and bodies fit together is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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