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Presidents of the European Union

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Introduction

The EU has several institutions that carry out the functions of the EU. The main ones are the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, the European Central Bank and European Court of Justice. Each of these has a president who is the public face and leader of their institution.

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

The President of the European Commission is the head of the most powerful EU institution, as the only institution that can propose EU laws. Every five years the president is nominated for the role by the European Council and then must be elected by a vote in the European Parliament. The entire Commission along with its president can be forced to resign by the European Parliament. In 1999, following reports of fraud and malfunctioning, the president, Jacques Santer, and his entire Commission resigned to avoid an upcoming vote by the parliament that would have removed them from office.

The current president is Jean-Claude Juncker. He was elected for five years in November 2014. Juncker was born in Luxembourg in 1954. In 1974 he joined the Christian Social People’s Party. He became a government minister, and from 1995 to 2013 was the Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Juncker was nominated for the Presidency in 2014, despite opposition from the British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Role in the EU

  • Appoints 28 EU Commissioners, one from each member state.
  • Allocates policy portfolios to Commissioners.
  • Determines the policy direction of the EU.
  • Calls and chairs meetings of the Commissioners.
  • Attends European Council meetings.
  • Attends major debates of the EU Parliament.
  • Attends important debates in the Council of the EU.
  • Works with the Commission to propose and implement EU law.
  • Represents the EU at some international meetings.

Presidency of the Council of the European Union

Member states take it in turns to hold the Presidency of the Council of the EU for six months. When a country holds the presidency, representatives from that country, usually the relevant minister or head of government, lead the work of the Council and they are responsible for chairing Council meetings. When the Council meets as the Council of Foreign Ministers it is chaired by the EU’s High Representative of Foreign and Security Affairs.


President of the European Council – Donald Tusk

Until 2009, the Presidency of the European Council passed between all the governments of the EU on a six-month rotation. However, changes in the Lisbon Treaty established an independent President of the European Council. The president is chosen by the 28 leaders of EU members states who form the European Council. The president must not be head of government and they serve a two and a half year term, which can be extended to five years.

The position is currently held by Donald Tusk. Born in Poland in 1957, he was elected to the Polish parliament in 1991 and founded the Civic Platform Party in 2001. In 2007 he became Prime Minister of Poland, and was the only Polish Prime Minister to serve two terms since the collapse of communism in 1989. In August 2014 he was chosen as the President of the European Council.

Role in the EU

  • Calls and chairs European Council summits.
  • Works on behalf of the Council to agree policy direction and priorities in cooperation with the Commission.
  • Facilitates cohesion and consensus in the Council.
  • Reports to the parliament following each Council meeting.
  • Represents the EU on issues of foreign and security policy, alongside the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
  • Represents the EU at international meetings, alongside the President of the European Commission.

President of the European Parliament – Martin Schulz

The President of the European Parliament is elected by the parliament every two and a half years and can be elected for two terms, giving each president a maximum term of five years. The parliament itself has been directly elected every five years since 1979, so each term of the parliament can see two presidents.

Martin Schulz was elected as president in January 2012 as the second president in the 2009 to 2014 parliamentary term. He was born in 1955 in Germany. Having previous worked selling books, Schulz was elected as a municipal councillor in 1984 and three years later became mayor. In 1994 he was elected as a Member of the European Parliament. By 2004 he had become the chairman of both the Party of European Socialists and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, leading the socialist group in parliament.

Role in the EU

  • Chairs full parliament sittings, the Conference of the Presidents of Political Groups (of which there are seven) and the Bureau of Parliament, which includes 14 vice-presidents.
  • Oversees the activities of the European Parliament.
  • Ensures parliamentary procedure is followed.
  • Represents parliament in all legal matters.
  • Signs EU budget and legislation subject to co-decision into law.
  • Represents the views of the parliament to the European Council.
  • Represents the views of the parliament at international meetings.

President of the European Central Bank – Mario Draghi

The President of the European Central Bank (ECB) is appointed for a single eight-year term by the European Council. The president’s role is to try to ensure economic stability, primarily by achieving stable inflation through setting monetary policy for all eurozone countries. Following the 2008 financial crash the ECB and its presidents have taken a more active role in trying to stabilise the economies of the eurozone. This has included involvement in managing bailouts and the buying of eurozone government bonds.

Mario Draghi was born in Rome in 1947. He has worked as an Executive Director of the World Bank, the Director General of the Italian Treasury, a Managing Director of Goldman Sachs International and the Governor of the Bank of Italy. He was appointed as the President of the ECB in 2011.

Role in the EU

  • Leads the European Central Bank in:
    • Setting monetary policy for countries that use the euro.
    • Determining the bank’s interest rates for the euro.
    • Supporting eurozone economies.
    • Operating the Single Supervisory Mechanism, introduced to monitor the financial stability of eurozone banks.
  • Heads the six member executive board of the ECB.
  • Represents the ECB at international meetings.
  • Represents the ECB in managing eurozone bailouts along with the European Commission and the IMF (collectively known as the Troika).
  • Manages bond-buying programs, which support individual eurozone economies by increasing money available to national central banks by purchasing bonds from them.
  • Manages quantitative easing by the ECB, where new money is created to boost investment and spending in the economy.


President of the Court of Justice – Koen Lenaerts

The President of the Court of Justice presides over the highest court in the European Union on matters of EU law. The president is elected from and by the 28 judges that sit in the court, one from each EU member state. The president is elected for renewable three-year terms.

Koen Lenaerts was born in Belgium in 1954. Previously a Professor of Law, he became a legal secretary at the Court of Justice in 1984 and was a judge at the Court of First Instance of the European Communities from 1989 to 2003. In October 2003 he became a Judge at the Court of Justice and a Vice-President of the Court of Justice in 2012. In 2015 he was appointed as President of the Court of Justice.

Role in the EU

  • Leads the Court of Justice in interpreting and ruling on EU treaties.
  • Presides over court hearings and judicial deliberations.
  • Directs the court’s judicial business and administration, setting the timetable of cases that the court hears.
  • Assigns cases to court chambers for examination.
  • Appoints judges to write judicial reports for the EU.