The European Commission has denied that President Jean-Claude Juncker could resign in March, as reported by La Repubblica.
Quoting European sources, the Italian newspaper reported this morning that President Juncker will decide whether to stay in Brussels or resign over the next few weeks.
Speaking to RAI, European Commission Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas slammed reports and said that Juncker “will not resign”. Spokesperson Mina Andreeeva explained that “Juncker is here to stay and fight all the crisis that Europe is facing, from Grexit to Brexit, and the migration crisis. He is as motivated as his first day in office.”
Earlier this month, Juncker told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk that he would not seek to stay for a second term after his current mandate ends in 2019.
European sources have told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that Juncker will decide to stay in Brussels or resign over the next few weeks.
The European Commission president is elected by the European Parliament. Juncker was the first leader of the executive to be elected under the new “Spitzenkandidaten” system, which allows every political group represented in the European Parliament to put forward a candidate for the post.
He took office as Commission president in 2014 after defeating former European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a socialist, who is now running to unseat German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the 24 September election.
Juncker is a member of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and previously served as Luxembourg’s prime minister from 1995 until 2013.
The EPP has newfound political dominance in Brussels since Schulz’s departure as Parliament president last month. Newly elected European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and European Council President Donald Tusk are also from the political group, which spurred speculation that other parties could push for Tusk to be ousted.
If a replacement needs to be found, a number of his vice-presidents could fill the list. The Finnish Jyrki Katainen and the Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis, who was also interested in running for the presidency of the Commission, but dropped off the race just before the Congress in 2014. Another possible candidate to succeed the Luxembourgish president is the European Commission First Vice-President, Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans.
According to the sources quoted by the Italian paper, Juncker is at crossroads: leave a mark and forge a path for the future of the 27-country bloc after Brexit, or quit and leave the place to one of the current vice-presidents of the Commission.
During his last interview with German media, Juncker said he feared that Brexit will drive the remaining 27 countries against each other “without much effort”
EU member states are becoming even more divided over opinions that “are not necessarily compatible,” he said, referencing Hungary and Poland.
“Do the Hungarians or the Poles want exactly the same thing as the Germans or the French? I have huge doubts. You have to create a fundamental consensus again. That’s a job for the next two or three years,” Juncker added
On 8 March, the European Commission is expected to publish a white paper for the relaunch of the European project after Brexit. That will be Brussels’ contribution to the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
However, many EU leaders facing crucial elections have reportedly told Juncker to keep his paper and vision in the drawer.
The Netherlands, France and Germany are all holding general elections this year, in which populist anti-EU parties are expected to make strong showings.
Both Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have allegedly asked to have a low key anniversary not to fuel domestic debates on Europe and divide further the 27 member states.
Euractiv.com reported in November that the decision of former European Parliament President Martin Schulz to return to domestic politics has raised a number of questions about the political future of Juncker.
Deputy Chief Spokesman for the European Commission Alexander Winterstein quashed the rumour at a press briefing on Monday (20 February), saying it was a product of the Brussels echo chamber.
"In 2014, the president in an interview with one of your colleagues said very clearly that five years would be enough for him. By announcing at the beginning of his term that the president wouldn’t be seeking a second term, he would remain free to do as he saw fit without being suspected of trying to assure himself of a second term.
Perhaps it is not such a bad thing for all of ours, including journalists, we can have what referred to as echo chambers where the same unfounded rumours bounce around.
One thing is clear the president will complete his term, devoting a great deal of enthusiasm and energy to his work and he won’t be seeking a second term in office."