New Europe: Greeks up for Commissioner-Left is buying time, Right cashing in on love

Election talk in Greece is hotter than ever. The question of election timing is crucial – because depending on the chosen date, it will be either the current SYRIZA-led government, or the next, most likely New Democracy led government, that will select the country’s next European Commissioner.

If the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, decides to wait until the last moment to hold parliamentary elections, he will be the one to nominate the next Greek Commissioner. SYRIZA is trying to buy time, but many see a triple election in May the latest moment at which Greece will go to elections – with a possibility to go to the polls as early as March.

Looking left from the center

Many see Dimitris Papadimoulis as the frontrunner for SYRIZA. The 63-year-old Vice President of the European Parliament is on the one hand considered a very influential figure for the left in Brussels – but on the other has a questionable relationship with Tsipras that may kill his candidacy.

With a visit in the last 15 days in Brussels, sources suggest that former Minister under the socialist PASOK government, Louka Katseli, is a strong choice for Tsipras. With SYRIZA looking ever more frequently to veer toward the center ground from the far left that it once occupied, the former Minister for Labour, and Minister for the Economy, would be a powerful and forward-looking move for Tsipras.

However, if Tsipras is certain of defeat in the elections, it is more likely he will look backwards rather than forward – looking to cement either himself (we’ve seen outgoing heads of state gun for the position of Commissioner), or one of his close associates to the position.

Looking right from the center

Meanwhile, on the center-right side of the electoral minefield, people are paying more attention to who will run for MP rather than talking Commissioners. Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, is calmly waiting and support around his candidacy is being cemented. Though Samaras presents as an excellent choice for New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis, it seems that he is not behind the big media drive in support of his potential nomination.

New Democracy incumbent – and nearly President – Dimitris Avramopoulos, would normally also be thinking about his next moves – but the Migration portfolio is one of the few portfolios whose weight and importance won’t allow him to catch too many breaths until the term is over. Ultimately, it will be up to Avramopoulos to decide whether he stays or goes – with a Vice-Presidency of the Commission being on the cards should he decide to stay, after handling such a tough portfolio. But as Greece and New Democracy looks to reassert themselves on the world stage, Avramopoulos is an asset that we may see called upon from outside the EU institution context.

Looking out from the inside

Regardless of who the choice of Commissioner will be – both Tsipras and Mitsotakis have taken political gambles in their choices of European support. Tsipras – the Spitzen candidate for the European Left half a decade ago, has kept quiet for the time being, taking a wait and see approach. It may end up hurting him no matter what personality and political family he eventually puts his weight behind.

Mitsotakis, has used all his power to prop up EPP Group leader, and EPP Spitzen candidate Manfred Weber – being one of the two parties to support his candidacy. There are many in Brussels – from the highest levels of power to staffers who look at the numbers and still question whether Weber will be able to get the support required to be given the European Commission Presidency. Somehow those concerns haven’t echoed down to Greece – where Weber is considered the defacto next president by the New Democracy leaders. All this newfound, and now cemented love for Weber is certain to go down the drain if anyone else gets the Presidency. Otherwise – Mitsotakis is certain to cash in.

But assuming Weber does indeed become President, what could Mitsotakis get in return for his support? Consider a very strong personality like Avramopoulos or Samaras in the forefront as Commissioner, and another kingmaker in the arsenal in Margaritis Schinas – who is easily one of the top five most influential people inside the European Commission (and has himself political ambitions). On top of this, Schinas’ wife Mercedes Alvargonzález is coincidentally Weber’s head of cabinet. Would it not be a failure for Mitsotakis to not get one of the top positions?

If Weber becomes the next Commission President and New Democracy is not given High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HRVP) or the position of First Vice-President, then Mitsotakis has spent a whole lot of political capital and gained exactly nothing.

By Kassandra
Legendary EU insider, uncovering the deepest and darkest realities of EU governance and administration