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The European careers of the EU’s national leaders

In recent years, more and more top leaders of EU member countries have been elected or nominated who have spent one or several parts of their careers inside EU institutions, soon making it nine serving heads of state or heads of government.

In fact, today, the Greek government announced that former EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas is nominated to become the next president of Greece, which would make him the sixth currently serving head of state (HoS) of an EU member country who has formerly been a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) or of the European Commission (COM).

Together with three currently serving heads of government (HoG, i.e. prime ministers), it means that, if I did not miss anyone, 9 out of 28 EU countries are or will soon be led or governed by politicians who did not only spend time in national or local politics but who have come through one of the two major supranational EU institutions.

 Country   Name Current Position Past EU Position
Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt HoG MEP
Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves HoS MEP
Finland Alexander Stubb HoG MEP
Greece Stavros Dimas HoS (cand.) COM
Hungary János Áder HoS MEP
Italy Giorgio Napolitano HoS MEP
Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaite HoS COM
Malta Joseph Muscat HoG MEP
Slovenia Borut Pahor HoS MEP


All nine cases are proof of what I’ve previously called trajectories of a new European elite - and I haven’t looked into already retired national leaders who may have previously served in an EU institution, (ex-)MEPs and (ex-)Commissioners who ran for top office (e.g. in the Czech Republic in 2013) or are now top government officials (e.g. ex-MEP Nick Clegg in the UK or ex-Commissioner Margot Wallström in Sweden).

The division of national and European politics becomes less and less obvious, and moving into European politics may today just be a start or intermediate step of top-level politicians, not only the final destination of a career started at national level.

The fact that this happens in founding member states, member states that have joined in the 80s and 90s and in countries that have only recently joined the EU could indicate the normalisation of European politics. That six out of nine of those persons moved into more representative Head of State positions could however be an indication that an EU career may still be perceived as a more non-partisan move that qualifies for less politicised positions, although one would need to look deeper into the actual nomination process to be sure of that.

In other words:  Knowing your MEP or Commissioner is thus not just something for EU geeks as those people may soon be leading your country! 


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