Officially, the position of president of the European Union does not exist. One could say that there are four presidencies, with different methods of appointment.
This term “president of the EU”, sometimes used by news outlets, generally refers to the president of the European Council, elected by qualified majority by that assembly of national heads of state and government, for a once-renewable mandate of two and a half years. Currently, the former prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, occupies the position. As a kind of “technical” prime minister, he carries out the administrative functions of the European executive power, while also being expected to play a representative role abroad. In practice, however, the political functions of this position are minimal.
Then there are other presidencies. Buckle up, because it gets complicated.
The president of the European Council should not be confused with the presidency of the Council of The European Union, also called the EU Council of Ministers, a role fulfilled not by an individual person, but by a member state, for a duration of 6 months. This presidency is rotating and involves three countries which provide assistance and succeed one another, as a kind of trio. The aim is to ensure a certain coherence to proceedings. At the moment, Romania is assisted by Finland and Croatia, which will succeed it.
Then comes the presidencies of the European Commission and the European Parliament.
The president of the European Commission is elected by qualified majority by the European Council, and must also be approved by the Parliament, before which the president is responsible. The president’s mandate lasts five years. This position is currently occupied by the high-profile Jean-Claude Juncker. He was preceded by José Manuel Barroso, Romano Prodi and Jacques Delors.
The president of the European Parliament, elected by MEPs, is the equivalent of the head of any national parliament. He oversees the various work of the Parliament, acting as a kind of super-arbiter of debates therein. Antonio Tajani has occupied this position since January 2017. Martin Schulz preceded him.