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26/08/2016

Cameron and Merkel are the EU Council’s biggest rivals

EU Priorities 2020

Cameron and Merkel are the EU Council’s biggest rivals

German chancellor Angela Merkel and British PM David Cameron [Number 10/Flickr]

Germany and the United Kingdom are the two countries who most often went head to head in EU Council votes, new research released on Wednesday (11 June) shows.

Transparency organisation VoteWatch scrutinised the votes cast by representatives of all 28 member states in the EU Council of Ministers.

The study showed that Germany and the United Kingdom voted against each other most often. They disagreed on 16% of formal votes cast in the Council. One of the fields that the two countries most often disagree on is constitutional affairs.  

If this figure appears low, that is due to EU Council decisions, generally adopted after negotiations have led to a consensus. Votes are almost never taken when a required majority is not yet secured.

The report looked at all official votes between July 2009 and May 2014. It also highlighted the disagreement that is at the foundation of headlines dominating the news in recent days.

Observers have pinpointed the power struggle between German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron over who will lead the next EU executive.

In the campaign for the EU elections on 22-25 May, many European political families sent out one lead candidate – or Spitzenkandidat – in the field to campaign for the post of EU Commission president. Among them was Jean-Claude Juncker, whose EPP party finished first and who is seen as the frontrunner to get the top job.

The decision on who will be Commission president will be put to a vote at the European Parliament but it is taken by all heads of state and government, in a European Council meeting. The EU leaders are expected to choose their candidate at the EU Summit on 26-27 June. 

Merkel and Cameron met in Stockholm with the Swedish head of state, Fredrik Reinfeldt, and Dutch PM, Mark Rutte. While the other three oppose the appointment of Juncker as EU Commission president, Merkel has stressed her support for the Luxembourger several times since the EU elections.

The British prime minister openly opposes Juncker and has even threatened his appointment could trigger the UK’s exit from the EU.

In an earlier commentary on the Washington Post website, analysts Simon Hix (LSE) and Stuart Wilks-Heeg (University of Liverpool) illustrated the difference between the UK and Germany in the attention given to Europe’s Spitzenkandidaten race.

Hix and Wilks-Heeg discussed the “dramatic contrast between German and British media coverage”. The media and public opinion – and by extension the countries’ political leaders – have paid very different levels of attention to the race,  explaining the different positions on Juncker’s candidacy.

While admitting the nationality of candidates was a factor, Hix and Wilks-Heeg stated that “the different levels of media coverage of the campaign […] is one of the main reasons why German and British voters and the political elites in Berlin and Paris have a completely different understanding of how European Parliament elections work.”

Background

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.

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