EU Commission President with an Electoral College System

Jul 18, 2019
EU Parliament Electorate Results by State

Recently, the European Union (EU) held an election to decide the representatives in the EU Parliament, the EU's equivalent to the House of Representatives in the US.  After the election, a Commission President is selected based on the results and on input from another EU body (European Council) which consists of the heads of state of the 28 EU states.  In this last election held on May 26, no party held a majority but the party with a plurality can attempt to form a coalition with other parties large enough to gain a majority.  The results were so scattered however, that the three largest parties needed to form a coalition to gain a majority.  Ultimately, they could not agree on a candidate to head the Commission and through backroom dealings, the European Council selected a candidate outside of the parties' leadership, and the Parliament voted her in this week.  How would the election look if the EU had an electoral college?  We take a look at the process below.  The map above shows how many electors each party would get based on this election's results.  Each state is given the number of representatives it has in the Parliament and one additional elector for each representative in the European Council and one for the Council of the European Union (so the number of parliamentarians plus two).  These two bodies are not exact equivalents of our Senate, but in order to simplify the highly bureaucratic institutions of the EU, it will do for now.  Another post looks at how the previous US presidential race would look with a parliamentary system.


  • The political groups that made it into Parliament include: European People's Party (EPP), Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (SD), Renew Europe (Renew), Greens-European Free Alliance (Greens), Identity and Democracy (ID), European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE).  Parties that are not part of any political group are considered Non-Inscrits or non-attached members (NI).
  • The lead candidate was used if a political group only had one lead candidate.  If a political group had more than one lead candidate, one was selected at random.  The lead candidates were: Manfred Weber for the EPP, Frans Timmermans for SD, Margrethe Vestager for Renew, Ska Keller for the Greens, Marco Zanni for ID, Jan Zahradil for the ECR, and Violeta Tomic for GUE.
  • There are 807 electors (751 being the number of parliamentarians and two for each state representing the two representatives to the two Councils for each state, so 751 plus 56).
  • No candidate wins a majority (404 electors) of the electoral college as EPP's Manfred Weber receives 351 electors, Renew's Margrethe Vestager receives 152, ID's Marco Zanni receives 151, SD's Frans Timmermans receives 87, ECR's Jan Zahradil receives 53, and GUE's Violeta Tomic receives 13.
  • Weber carries 15 states: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.
  • Vestager carries 6 states: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom (due to Brexit Party not being a part of any political group).
  • Zanni carries 2 states: France and Italy.
  • Timmermans carries 3 states: Malta, Portugal, and Spain.
  • Zahradil carries 1 state: Poland.
  • Tomic carries 1 state: Ireland.
  • This forces the incoming Parliament to vote for the next President and if no majority is formed, the incoming Councils to vote for the next Vice President.
  • Each state gets only one vote so the parliamentarians from each state have to agree on a consensus candidate.  If they cannot agree, the Councils vote for Vice President (again each state gets one vote).  The parliamentarians keep voting until one candidate gets a majority and the Vice President takes over as President until Parliament elects a Commission President.  If the Councils cannot agree on a Vice President, the Speaker of the House in the US (or the President of the EU Parliament, currently David Sassoli) takes over the duties of the President until one of the above bodies elect a candidate.
  • According to the US Constitution, the state delegations can only choose from the two leading candidates, in this case, Weber and Vestager.  The Councils can choose a Vice President from the three leading candidates, in this case, a candidate from the EPP, a candidate from Renew, and a candidate from ID.
  • State delegations vote for Weber if EPP, ECR, and ID have more parliamentarians than SD, Renew, GUE, and Greens.  If SD, Renew, GUE, and Greens are greater in number than EPP, ECR, and ID, that delegation votes for Vestager.
  • In total, 17 states have a larger left delegation than a right delegation and they vote for Vestager making her Commission President.  These states are: Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.
  • In total, six states have a larger right delegation than a left delegation and they vote for Weber.  These states are: Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, and Poland.
  • In total, five states have either an even number of left and right delegates or have enough non-aligned delegates to swing the vote in either direction.  These are toss-ups and could potentially vote for either Weber or Vestager.  They include: Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
  • Assuming a majority could not be formed above, Renew wins the Vice Presidency as 15 states have a head of state that is of the left coalition whereas 10 states have a head of state that is of the right coalition.


  • This post does not posit that one system is better than the other.  Clearly, if any state discovered a utopian way to be governed, many others would follow suit.  Both the EU's parliamentary system and the US's presidential system have their pros and cons.  This is simply an exercise to see how the process of electing the Commission President would occur under a different system.
  • Each political group has one or more spitzenkandidat, or political leader, which they recommend become the European Commission President.  If a political group has more than one leader, one is chosen at random.
  • First-past-the-post was used due to an unfamiliarity with each state's national parties and how each state's electorate would vote if instant runoff voting was used.  It should be noted that instant runoff voting is used more and more in the US and may eventually replace simple plurality voting.
  • The numbers in the table below do not include all parties because parties that did not surpass their state's threshold did not make it into the EU Parliament.  The parties that did not make it into Parliament are not included because it is difficult to discern which political group they would caucus with.
  • One Polish party split its votes based on the constituent groups it is made up of and thus the total votes it received have been allocated according to the number of delegates it sent to each political group.  It received a total of 38.47% of the vote and sent 17 delegates to EPP and 5 to SD, thus its percentage has been split to 29.73% for EPP and 8.74% for SD.
  • Two Spanish parties split their votes as well and the total votes they received have been allocated according to the number of delegates they sent to each political group.  One party received a total of 10.07% of the vote and sent 5 delegates to GUE and 1 to Greens, thus its percentage has been split to 8.39% for GUE and 1.68% for Greens.  The other party received a total of 5.58% of the vote and sent 1 delegate to GUE, 1 to Greens, and 1 to NI, thus its percentage has been split to 1.86% for GUE, 1.86% for Greens, and 1.86% for NI.


Clearly, an electoral college would guarantee that a spitzenkadidat would become Commission President and would avoid the negative optics of a random individual being selected in backroom dealings by the Council.  However, neither Weber nor Timmermans gets the post as neither political group can reach a majority as can be seen in the map above.  This kicks off the contingency election process which sends the election of the President to the House or Parliament in the case of the EU, and the election of the Vice President to the Senate or the Councils (closest equivalent) in the case of the EU.

According to the US Constitution, the Parliament chooses from one of the top two candidates, in this case, the spitzenkadidats for EPP and Renew, Weber and Vestager respectively.  There, each state's delegation gets one vote for president in the Parliament and, if need be, one vote for Vice President in the Councils.  The incoming parliamentarians caucus on a state by state basis and give their state's vote to one of the top two candidates.  Based on the makeup of the parliament as can be seen in the table below, Vestager carries anywhere between 17 and 22 states whereas Weber only carries anywhere between 6 and 11 resulting in Vestager becoming the European Commission President.

StateEPP, ECR, ID SeatsSD, Renew, GUE, Greens SeatsNI SeatsLikely Vote
Croatia542Weber or Vestager
Greece984Weber or Vestager
Latvia440Weber or Vestager
Slovakia652Weber or Vesatger
Slovenia440Weber or Vestager
United Kingdom43930Vestager

If the above did not result in a clear majority, the Councils would get to vote for a Vice President from the candidates that received the top three electoral votes to fill the Commission President spot until the Parliament elects the President.  As can be seen in the table below, Renew's candidate would carry from 15 to 18 states, EPP's candidate would carry anywhere from 8 to 13 states, and ID's candidates can potentially carry from 0 to 5 states if all ECR and NI delegations choose to vote for ID.  In this scenario, Renew wins the Vice Presidency and assuming that Vestager is the Commission President candidate, Guy Verhofstadt becomes Vice President and assumes the Commission President's duties until the Parliament can elect a Presidential candidate.


StateHead of State's Political GroupLikely Vote
AustriaNIEPP, Renew, or ID
ItalyNIEPP, Renew, or ID
LithuaniaNIEPP, Renew, or ID
PolandECREPP or ID
United KingdomECREPP or ID

In the case that the Councils cannot elect a Vice President, then the EU equivalent of the Speaker of the House fills the spot until someone is elected.  In our example, this would be the President of the EU Parliament who is currently SD's David Sassoli.

It should also be noted that the US and EU governing and political cultures are vastly different.  Americans vote for their local representative who will fight for the issues of the locality to which the representative is elected.  Europeans vote for a political party to enact a specific set of laws throughout the land.  In America, politics is very local as the representative looks out for the needs and wants of his constituents who reside within a specific geographic area.  In Europe, parties expect their representatives to vote the party line and representatives do not necessarily represent a specific locality.  Each system is different and each has its pros and its cons.  This post does not suggest that one is better than the other, it is merely a succinct review of a political process.


European Parliament.  "2019 European Election Reults."  Accessed July 17, 2019.

Filed under: Elections