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29/09/2016

Vote looms on next EU Commission chief as Cameron raises stakes

UK & Europe

Vote looms on next EU Commission chief as Cameron raises stakes

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, speaking at the European Council on 21 March 2014. [Number 10/Flickr]

David Cameron has stepped up his campaign to block Jean-Claude Juncker from the European Commission Presidency, insisting that a vote takes place at this week’s EU summit in Brussels (26-27 June). EurActiv France reports.

The British Prime Minister wants EU countries to hold a vote on the next Commission President, even though Britain currently does not have a blocking minority in the European Council to stop Juncker.

Britain has no veto over the decision, which would be subject to a qualified majority if it came to a vote.

Cameron has so far failed to win over new allies in his anti-Juncker campaign, with only Hungary backing the British Prime Minister’s uncompromising stance. Sweden and the Netherlands, meanwhile, are lukewarm but not strictly opposed to Juncker’s appointment.

>> Read: Opposition to Juncker wanes, Cameron isolated

Speaking on Monday (23 June), Cameron said that resorting to a vote would have “serious” consequences for the UK.

Cameron has promised Britons an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership if he is re-elected in 2015 and said he would push the vote forward if Juncker was appointed.

No qualified majority in the Council

If a vote was to take place on Friday, a blocking minority will require 93 votes. However, the countries that are potentially against Juncker have just 64 votes between them – Sweden (10), Hungary (12), the UK (29) and the Netherlands (13).

The struggle over the next Commission president illustrates the widening gulf between the UK leadership and the EU. “A vote would have negative consequences for everyone,” said the Commission, adding that Cameron will not home empty handed if the vote to oppose Juncker’s candidacy fails.

The European Council is walking on egg shells because a majority of countries now want the EPP candidate to form a majority. If they put another candidate forward, they risk a crisis between the Council and the European Parliament, which supports Juncker’s legitimacy. However, if they don’t come up with another candidate, they risk a crisis between the EU and the UK.

UK demands taken into account

British diplomats insist that their stance is based on institutional principle and not on who gets top European positions. But in private, diplomats are actively trying to find a face-saving solution for Cameron by offering a sweetener for Britain.

The European Commission portfolio for energy has emerged as a possible consolation prize for Cameron. The portfolio, which includes relations with Russia, is a highly coveted position this year. Both France and Germany have their eyes on the job, which is becoming ever more important to ensure European energy independence and stability.

>> Read our LinksDossier: The EU top jobs: Who’s next?

“Seeing as a French person became Director of the DG for Energy, it would not be inconceivable that the UK gets the commissioner portfolio,” said a Commission source. Dominique Ristori has been at the head of the DG for Energy since 2013 and works closely with Günther Oettinger, who is backed by Germany for a second term as energy commissioner.

Scottish Salmon

The UK is moving into a bargaining position in order to negotiate opt-outs from some EU treaties, especially those regarding financial regulation, social Europe and fishing quotas. Fishing quotas are important to Scotland, where salmon quotas were not well received. David Cameron is resisting these quotas in the knowledge that it will benefit him in September’s referendum on Scottish independence.

Background

Following the European Parliament elections, 2014 will bring about change in many of the top positions in the European Union.

Traditionally, EU top jobs are the result of a hard bargaining process between the member states. Who will take centre stage on the European level is negotiated on the basis of nationality and political allegiance, and is due to reflect a fair representation of European member states and of the political power balance in Europe.

The positions that will become available in the course of this year are:

  • The European Commission presidency, currently held by José Manuel Barroso who will step down when the current Commission's term ends;
  • The European Council presidency, currently held by Herman Van Rompuy, who has announced he will retire after his term expires in late November;
  • The EU high representative for foreign and security policy, currently held by Catherine Ashton, who will step down when the current Commission's term ends;
  • NATO secretary general, currently held by Danish liberal Anders Fogh Rasmussen, which becomes available on 1 October.

>> Read our LinksDossier: EU top jobs: Who's next?

 

Timeline

  • 26-27 June: European Council meeting in Belgium, Ypres and Brussels