Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as President of the European Commission ends a month of haggling over the post. But Berlin is divided on the outcome, with Green Party politicians praising a win for democracy, while the Left claims the Parliament voted to “rescue the Spitzenkandidat experiment”. EURACTIV Germany reports.
After Jean-Claude Juncker’s election to the Commission Presidency in Strasbourg on Tuesday (15 July), excitement in Germany was felt across party lines.
“(It’s) A good sign for Europe’s capacity to act,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented.
“He will receive our total support,” said the country’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. For the first time, European citizens have had direct influence on the appointment of the EU top job – and they successfully asserted their choice, Steinmeier said optimistically.
Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament, spoke of a “historic day for European Democracy”.
But euphoria among top politicians is unjustified, according to critics.
“The process that led to Juncker’s nomination was tricky. It was just like the horse-trading that went on with Juncker’s predecessor Barroso,” commented Felix Mengel, from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) in Berlin.
Former Luxembourg Prime Minister Juncker received 422 out of 751 total votes in the European Parliament. Only 376 votes were needed.
“Parliament could not afford a rejection”
In the run-up to the vote, Juncker became the declared enemy of many heads of state and government, Mengel recalled, speaking to EURACTIV in Berlin.
Juncker only won the votes he needed from the Social Democrats because his party, the European People’s Party (EPP), helped elect Martin Schulz to the Parliament presidency, Mengel explained.
“The European Parliament could not afford a rejection of Juncker. One wanted to save face and show unanimity,” Mengel hypothesised.
An experiment was at stake, the ECFR analyst commented. European party families chose “Spitzenkandidaten” to run at the top of their candidate lists in the European elections, promising that one of them would become Commission President. But Article 17(7) in the Lisbon Treaty does not define such automatism.
“The European top candidates only played a relevant role in Germany. In other countries, like the United Kingdom, they were hardly mentioned,” explained Mengel.
Project “Spitzenkandidat” rescued
Left Party (Die Linke) politician Andrej Hunko, a member of the Committee on the Affairs of the European Union in the German Bundestag, criticised the election. “The fact that the Social Democrats voted for Juncker shows that the vote no longer had anything to do with political content. The European Parliament simply wanted to rescue the ‘Spitzenkandidat’ experiment,” Hunko told euractiv.de.
“The Spitzenkandidat idea simply does not work right now,” said EU analyst Mengel. “The EU’s structural problems are too great for that. For example, the European Parliament is still not a full-fledged parliament.” The question over what kind of Europe we want must still be discussed.
Green politicians: “Juncker is a good choice”
But Green Bundestag MP Manuel Sarrazin is more hopeful. “Even if parts of the European Greens in the Parliament have a different opinion, Juncker is a good choice in my opinion. As a result, Europe has become a bit more democratic,” Sarrazin said in a statement for euractiv.de.
The newly-elected Commission President has significant experience in European politics. Sarrazin said he believes Juncker will strengthen the supranational EU institutions and accentuate the Community method.
Juncker may not represent all of the Green Party’s positions, “but we should not become too small-minded at this point”, Sarrazin emphasised.
“We will have enough opportunities over the next five years for content-based discussions,” said the Green politician.
“With Juncker, the EPP is placing one of its most experienced European politicians at the helm of the European Commission,” explained Hans-Peter Friedrich. The conservative is deputy chairman of the centre-right Bundestag faction made up of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian counterpart, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
“We expect Juncker’s work to bear the clear handwriting of the EPP. We will do our best to support Juncker on this,” said the CSU politician.
In his introductory speech, Juncker addressed respective demands from political opponents. The 59 year-old hopes to develop a 300 billion euro investment package, introduce a transparency register for all EU institutions, and allow legal immigration options for migrants.
“Neither an awakening nor fresh wind”
“Juncker acts like a sympathetic conservative, but regarding content, he hardly differs from the hardliners in his party”, Hunko stated.
While he talks of legal immigration options, Hunko pointed out that Juncker hopes to expand the EU’s border control agency FRONTEX. The growth package is no traditional investment policy, but seeks to stimulate private investments, said Hunko.
For ECFR analyst Mengel, “Juncker neither represents an awakening nor a fresh wind. He is at the end of his career.” Now the question is whether Juncker can fulfill the high expectations.
Juncker has announced his intention to act independently and “politically” as Commission president. He said he would not be a “servant of the European Parliament” and neither would he be a “secretary to the heads of government”.
But according to Mengel, the institutional framework conditions remain unchanged. “Theoretically,” he concluded, ” Juncker cannot do any more than his predecessor Barroso.”
After weeks of discussion and a bruising confrontation with Britain, EU leadersy gave the thumbs up to the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the European Commission for the next five years at their summit on 27 June.
The decision, which now has to be approved by the European Parliament at its mid-July plenary session took centre stage on the EU's political scene since the European elections took place on 25 May, amid fierce resistance by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.