German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday (2 June) she was pressing fellow EU leaders to back Jean-Claude Juncker for the post of European Commission president, but also noted it could be pushed through without the backing of all.
Speaking at a news conference with the visiting prime minister of Georgia, Merkel stressed that Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg, could be approved in the European Council, which groups all 28 EU leaders, with a “qualified majority”.
Under rules in place until November this year, opponents of Juncker, led by Britain’s David Cameron, would need the support of countries representing 38 percent of the population of the European Union to block him.
No one expects it to come to a vote. But Merkel’s mention of the procedure could be interpreted as a subtle warning to those who oppose Juncker, the declared candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest grouping in the new European Parliament.
“In all the talks that I hold, I am working to ensure Jean-Claude Juncker gets the necessary majority in the Council, in order to become the next president of the European Commisssion,” Merkel said.
“I am also working to ensure that this decision, even if it is controversial – and you know, the required majority, it is a qualified majority – is made in the European spirit. And by European spirit, I mean that we always work to achieve the highest level of consensus.”
Merkel, whose Christian Democrats (CDU) are members of the EPP, raised doubts about her own commitment to Juncker last week by suggesting at a news conference in Brussels that the top Commission job could be done by others.
Her lukewarm comments sparked a backlash in the German media and from her coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), who accused her of succumbing to British blackmail. She has since stepped up her verbal support for Juncker.
“The chancellor cannot appear to buckle under the weight of British pressure, but for domestic reasons David Cameron needs to make his opposition to ‘unacceptable’ candidates as clear as possible,” said Alex White, an analyst at J.P. Morgan in a note on Monday. “This will make compromise difficult”.
Merkel is due to travel to Stockholm next week for a meeting with Cameron and two other Juncker sceptics, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
Italian leader Matteo Renzi and Hungary’s Viktor Orban are also cool on Juncker. At the weekend, Renzi said the former chairman of the euro zone group of finance ministers was just one of several candidates for the Commission job.
European leaders have given themselves until late June to reach a deal. Their eventual nominee must win majority support in the European Parliament to be appointed.
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.
The EU summit held on 27 May, two days after the European elections, gave a mandate to Van Rompuy to start consultations in view of electing a new Commission President, leaving the door open to other options, rather than nominating the winning centre-right candidate in the EU elections, Jean-Claude Juncker [read more].
- 26-27 June 2014: New Commission president nominated by EU leaders at June European Council meeting.
- 14-17 July 2014: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission president at plenary session.
- Summer 2014: Each EU country nominates their commissioners. New Commission President distributes portfolios within his team.
- September: Commissioners scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament.
- Oct. 2014: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new European Commission as a whole.
- 1 Nov. 2014: Target date for new Commission to take office.
- November 2014: End of mandate of Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.