EXCLUSIVE/ The British position that the EPP leading candidate Jean-Claude Juncker for Commission President is not fit for the job is undermined by reports that London would accept the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg to lead the EU executive, if the British commissioner is given charge of a “cluster” of key portfolios, EurActiv has learned.
Prime Minister David Cameron wants Andrew Lansley, the future UK Commissioner, to be given the post of Commission Vice President, overseeing a “cluster” comprising the commissioners in charge of internal market, competition, trade and energy. In addition, London wants the post of Commission Secretary General for a British national, and other “small things”, two sources told this website. The strategic post of Secretary General of the Commission is currently held by Catherine Day, an Irish national.
Lansley, the leader of Britain’s lower house of parliament and a “moderate Eurosceptic”, will become the country’s next representative in the European Union executive.
In exchange, Cameron is reportedly going to accept that Jean-Claude Juncker, the EPP Spitzenkadidat in the European elections, gets the post of Commission President, despite the fact that “nobody in Britain voted for him”. Indeed, Cameron’s Tories withdrew from the centre-right European Peoples’ Party following the 2009 European election and founded their own group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). No EPP-affiliated party has actually run in the European elections in Britain.
But more importantly, Cameron has called Juncker ‘a man of the past” and described him as unfit to steer the EU in the next five years. For his part, Juncker has made openings to Cameron, saying that he would work for a “fair deal for Britain” in renegotiating the UK’s EU membership.
As unacceptable as the Cameron demand may seem, it also signals a movement towards compromise, leading to Juncker’s appointment. Speaking to the Brussels press today (12 June), Manfred Weber, the chairman of the EPP group in the European Parliament, said that he expected Council President Herman Van Rompuy to nominate Juncker, and that there were strong indications that the EPP candidate would get a majority for a vote in Parliament on 15 or 16 July.
Weber, who gave a press conference minutes after he met with Van Rompuy, also repeated that London didn’t hold veto powers for the election of the Commission President. Indeed, according to procedure, a qualified majority vote of at least 55% of member states, representing at least 65% of the population, is required, which would be easily achieved even without the UK, and those few other countries that could decide to back London.
According to sources, momentum is building for securing a deal to rapidly install Juncker as successor to José Manuel Barroso, without British opposition. However, larger member countries, are anxious about ceding too much ground to London, and are working to prevent their own commissioners from being dwarfed by Lansley.
Weber said a quick decision to appoint Juncker would be seen favourably by markets.
“It is important to show them that Europe can stick to timetable,” the EPP group chief said.
In a reaction, the UK Representation to the EU's spokesman stresses that "the UK's position has not changed. We don't support Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the next EU Commission". "We have been clear on what person we need [to lead the Commission]: someone who can respond to voters' concerns, who can focus on jobs and growth and that can build a Europe that is about flexibility, openness and competitiveness," the spokesman said, adding “there is no negotiation to be had. It’s for the European Council to nominate a Commission President.”
The European elections were held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.
The European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for European political parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns. This will make the European elections a de facto race for commission president, politicise the campaigns and could increase voter turnout, they say.
But others have argued that the European parties’ push for their own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has repeatedly said, calling for caution in case the council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.
- 26-27 June: EU leaders to meet for the regular summit;
- 15 or 16 July: Possible vote in Parliament for Juncker as Commission President.