Lawmakers in the European Parliament have portrayed the former Luxembourg prime minister’s candidacy for the Commission presidency as a political manoeuvre to keep the decision in the hands of member states. EURACTIV France reports.
Is Jean-Claude Juncker really credible as a potential future president of the European Commission? Some MEPs doubt it. Although the former prime minister of Luxembourg is the designated candidate of the European Peoples’ Party (EPP), other political groups in the European Parliament question his candidacy.
“They take us for morons”, Daniel Cohn-Bendit angrily said during a press conference in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 11 March. “Michel Barnier wanted the job, Jean-Claude Juncker repeated for months that he did not want it, and the EPP chose the one who wasn’t interested,” the Green MEP continued.
Other MEPs joined the Green leader in his criticism of the former Eurogroup chief.
“I think there are better candidates than Mr. Juncker for the Commission presidency,” Liberals candidate Guy Verhofstadt said.
Beyond the criticism, the main fear of European political parties is the risk of Juncker being used by the right as a “Potemkin candidate”, a reference to the 18th century Russian nobleman Grigory Potemkin, who built fake villages in order to reassure the tsar about the situation in the country. By analogy, Juncker is being labelled a “Potemkin candidate”, a sham.
“I bet that if the EPP wins the European elections, Jean-Claude Juncker will be president of the European Council and another candidate like Christine Lagarde or Donald Tusk will be imposed as the head of the Commission,” Cohn-Bendit assures.
The name of the current chief of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is persistently being put forward, and many MEPs believe she could enter the race for the Commission presidency.
“Jean-Claude Juncker is much more focused on the EU presidency than on the Commission. The EPP continues to impose on European citizens the candidate of national governments, at the expense of the choice made at the ballot box,” the French MEP Catherine Trautmann said. “This is a problematic position which prompts difficult discussions,” she predicted.
“The campaign revolves around the president of the Commission. It is not about a little game in which you try to get another job if you don’t get the first,” Verhofstadt added.
This scenario could put into question what has been labelled as the most democratic European elections so far. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, citizens will in theory directly influence the choice of the next European Commission president for the first time. European parties are relying on this change to mobilise voters around an election that many fear will see another rise in abstention rates.
“From a democratic point of view, Jean-Claude Juncker was elected as EPP candidate,” said Hannes Swoboda, the president of the Socialist and Democrats group in Parliament.
“But for the Socialists, the most important is that only one official candidate for the presidency is invested,” he stressed.
In response to repeated attacks on the credibility of its candidate, the EPP has reaffirmed its support for Juncker.
“We were extremely clear at the EPP Congress in Dublin. Juncker is committed: if the EPP wins the elections, he will be candidate for the presidency of the Commission,” stressed Joseph Daul, the group's president in Parliament.
But these promises have failed to convince others. “We will see after the elections if the political parties respect the process which requires that the candidate of the winning party becomes the next president of the Commission,” Trautmann said.
On 8 March, the EPP Congress elected Jean-Claude Juncker, with 382 votes in favour and 245 against, as candidate for the Commission presidency.
The former prime minister received the support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His only competitor, Michel Barnier, currently the Internal Market commissioner, had little chance of winning. The third candidate, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, had given up in favour of Juncker.
Although the campaign of European political parties revolves around the choice of the Commission president, other vacancies will also be influenced by the outcome of the elections, and will be used as bargaining chips.
The likelihood of having the EPP candidate leaning towards the Council presidency rather than the Commission has been considered by the Socialists.
“If the results of our two parties are close, one could imagine Martin Schultz becoming president of the European Commission and Juncker taking the head of the European Council,” Swoboda said.
The latest polls give the left a small lead. The Socialists are credited with 209 seats, and EPP with 202, according to a survey by PollWatch.
The European elections will be held in all EU countries on 22-25 May. Since the treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament elects the Commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council “taking into account” the European elections (Article 17.7 TEU).
European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for these parties to nominate their frontrunners in the election campaigns, which makes the EU elections a de facto race for the Commission president seat. This is the first campaign in which this is the case – although observers are still uncertain on the eventual outcome.
- 22-25 May 2014: EU elections in 28 member states