/POLITICO 28: The most powerful people in Europe — ranked

POLITICO 28: The most powerful people in Europe — ranked

Where does the power lie in Europe? In many of the European Union’s strategic rivals, there’s no debate over who is the most influential person: It’s the one at the top. In Europe, the question is far more complicated. The ability to exert one’s will is apportioned in small if uneven doses across the Continent.

The German chancellor and the French president will always have lead voices in the choir, but neither is capable of forcing the rest of Europe to sing from their song sheets. If Germany was once too small for the world but too big for Europe, today it is outmuscled on the Continent by a host of interlocking alliances and institutional constraints.

A player’s combat readiness also depends on the field of battle being contested. Berlin may have an upper hand when it comes to finance or trade. But on military matters, it’s Paris, London or maybe Moscow calling the shots.

The firepower in Brussels is similarly scattered among its fractious institutions. The European Commission sets the legislative agenda, allowing it to kick off epochal reforms on policy areas like copyright and privacy protection. But when it comes to subjects like migration or the role of the euro, national leaders in the European Council have the upper hand. Who do you call if you want to call Europe? It depends on what you want to ask.

The Continent’s many checks and balances give the whip hand to spoilers and obstructionists. But they also place a premium on coalition-building, and thus on the strength of ideas. It’s easier to entice allies to your side if you have an attractive banner they can fight under. Brexit, the EU’s landmark data-protection law, the Continent’s push to cut greenhouse gas emissions — every important change that has swept the European landscape began as a dream that caught fire.

Welcome to the fifth edition of POLITICO 28 — our annual ranking of the people shaping European politics and policy. Regular readers will notice something different about this year’s selection.

In the past, our approach was to prioritize novelty in a search for 28 people from 28 countries shining light on how power is wielded on the Continent. The top of the list wasn’t necessarily the most influential person in Europe; it was somebody making an important and, crucially, unexpected impact.

This time around, we’re out for bigger fish. Through conversations with close observers and practitioners of European power, we set out to identify the 28 most powerful people on the Continent. Gone is the search for the unpredictable, jettisoned along with the requirement that each entry on the list come from a different country. The only criteria is relevance.

That doesn’t mean the list doesn’t contain any surprises. Few will spend much time protesting Emmanuel Macron’s spot at the top of the list. The French president has shown every inclination to use the power of his office — and then some. But there’s plenty of room for debate regarding the rest of the 28.

In addition to Macron at No. 1, the list is divided into three categories, each representing a different type of power. We’ve identified the nine “doers” with the greatest ability to exert influence; the nine “disrupters” most likely to overturn the status quo; and the nine “dreamers” whose ideas are driving European politics and policies.

We hope you’ll enjoy reading and look forward to hearing what you think of this year’s POLITICO 28.

Check out the full POLITICO 28 Class of 2020.

 

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