The European Union’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has been tipped to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president by a top think-tank.
Arch-federalist Mr Juncker is due to leave his unelected post in 2019, having said he does not want to serve another term as head of the Commission.
The 63-year-old could be replaced by Mr Barnier, who is currently Brussels’ chief Brexit negotiator, according to think-tank Vote Europe Watch.
The Frenchman is currently in “pole position” but could be challenged by International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde, the group added.
The candidates are expected to be chosen through a controversial process known as spitzenkandidaten, meaning ‘lead candidate’ in German.
Under the process, the top job goes to the lead candidate from the pan-EU party that receives the most votes in European Parliament elections.
The largest group in the European Parliament is currently the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which has 273 MEPs.
However, critics claim the process takes away too much power from the EU’s member states.
A spokesman for Vote Europe Watch said: “Even though the process may be met with opposition from some EU quarters, the candidate proposed by the EPP will certainly get the biggest chance in this race.
“For this part, it is little secret that the current chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, is in pole position.
“The name of another French, currently heading the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, is also rumored to be quoted high in Angela Merkel’s preferences.
“However, this option faces considerable opposition within the EPP.”
Finnish politicians Alexander Stubb or Jyrki Katainen could also enter the race, but the think-tank said: “It is currently hard to believe they could overtake Barnier’s bid for the presidency.”
Mr Barnier has long been rumoured to be waiting in the wings to replace fellow Europhile Jean-Claude Juncker.
Late last year, veteran French MEP Alain Lamassoure told Politico: “Barnier’s dream has always been to be president of the Commission, and that dream was broken in 2014.
“He doesn’t have prime ministerial experience to be Council president, but if he succeeds in the Brexit negotiations, he can make his dream come true.
“The calendar coincides perfectly. He will have finished in two years. And if he has done these negotiations brilliantly, he will be a candidate.”
Vote Watch Europe also predicts the EU’s High Representative Federica Mogherini, who was appointed in 2014, could step down next year.
She could be replaced by a fellow member of centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, according to the think-tank’s predictions.
And European Council president Donald Tusk could be replaced by a member of the EPP, the group believes.