EU leaders give thumbs up to Juncker, Britain isolated

Jean-Claude Juncker. Cyprus, May 2014. [Jean-Claude Juncker/Flickr]

After weeks of discussion and a bruising confrontation with Britain, EU leaders finally gave the thumbs up to Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the European Commission for the next five years.

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.

Italy’s centre-left prime minister, Matteo Renzi, who was initially lukewarm, finally backed Juncker in exchange for greater flexibility in the interpretation of EU budget rules and a shift in focus from austerity to pro-growth economic policies.

>> Read: EU leaders tie slower deficit reduction to reforms

The real winner, sources concur, is the European Parliament which, with a creative reading of the Lisbon Treaty, has initiated a procedure of nominating lead candidates for European Commission presidency, giving a face of the EU election campaign.

In the end, EU leaders approved a candidate that centre-right leaders had elected three month ago to lead the EU election campaign of the European People's Party's (EPP) at a congress in Dublin.

>> Read: Juncker beats rival in centre-right race for EU presidency

Speaking as acting president of the European Parliament, Italian centre-left MEP Gianni Pittella told EU leaders that the May elections have been a turning point for the EU as for the first time all major European parties presented lead candidates - or Spitzencandidaten - for the post of Commission president.

“The process of lead candidates has deepened a European-wide debate about European issues,” he said. “And without doubt, via this process the EU has become closer to its citizens, more transparent and more democratic.”

Cameron, the EU's isolated ‘enfant terrible’

Juncker's appointment comes as a blow for David Cameron, who led a campaign to block Juncker, but found himself increasingly isolated, as more countries rallied behind Juncker, except for Hungary.

Despite his defeat, the British Prime Minister said he 'lost one battle but not the war'. He called the nomination of Juncker "a serious mistake". "This is going to be a long, tough fight," he said, adding that the 'Spitzenkandidaten' process was unacceptable, as it did not allow any serving prime minister to stand in the race. "This process developed a momentum of its own," he insisted, saying that it sidelined smart and capable leaders.

"This is a bad day for Europe. It hands new power to the European Parliament,"Cameron said. "This whole process has simply reinforced my conviction that the EU has to change." 

David Lidington, Britain's Europe minister, had warned earlier this week that choosing Juncker for the Commission job risked turning the EU executive into "a creature" of the European Parliament, a view that was apparently not shared by a majority of EU member countries.

EU leaders have nonetheless offered political concessions to Britian. They added in their final statement that London's concerns about the future direction of the EU 'will need to be addressed' and that the principle of an 'ever closer union' in the treaties allowed for different paths of integration for different countries.

They also agreed to review the process for appointing the president of the European Commission once the new executive was in place.

>> Read: Opposition to Juncker wanes, Cameron isolated

The campaign turned ugly and personal in the run-up to the EU summit.

Juncker, the former long-serving prime minister of Luxembourg and son of a steelworker, was caricatured in the British press as a dangerous European arch-federalist, bent on alcohol and chain-smoking. British tabloid papers threw dirt on his father, saying he served in the Wehrmacht.

As the summit meeting resumed this morning in Brussels, Cameron told reporters: "There are times when it is important that you stick to your principles and you stick to your convictions. It is not right for the elected heads of government of the European countries to give up their right to nominate the head of the European Commission. And it is the wrong person," he said, underlining his objections.

>> Read: Cameron vows to fight Juncker ‘to the end’

David Cameron has promised Britons an in/out referendum on the UK's EU membership if he is re-elected next year, and said he would push the vote forward if Juncker was appointed.

Finland's new prime minister, Alexander Stubb, said "we need to build some bridges" between the programme the UK puts forward, and the position of other member states on Juncker at the top of the executive. "But in the UK, I think people should really wake up and smell the coffee."

Leaders will meet on 16 July, after the Parliament vote on Juncker, to discuss the appointments for the other top jobs, including the High Representative for Foreign affairs and security policy and the European Council president, as well as the composition of the next Commission.


Co-presidents of the Greens/EFA group in the EU Parliament, Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lamberts, stated: "It is certainly welcome to have a pro-European candidate, who is committed to European integration and is not insensitive to the growing social injustice in Europe. [...]Domestic political wrangling and national interests cannot be the basis for selecting the remaining top EU posts and the Commission college. [...] The key position of EU foreign policy representative must be filled by a man or a woman who brings great diplomatic experience. There is also a clear need to ensure gender balance at the top of the EU institutions."

Manfred Weber MEP, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, issued the following statement: “The voice of the European citizens has been heard. In putting forward the candidate who has been the face of the European People’s Party throughout the European elections campaign, the EU Heads of State and Government have taken an important step towards more democracy and transparency in Europe.”

“Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination is a success for the EPP. European voters have put their trust in us. They have made us yet again the largest political group in the European Parliament. What they now expect from us is to deliver. This is our responsibility. We need a strong European Commission that will put forward a reform agenda to promote growth and jobs in Europe.

Guy Verhofstadt, group leader of the liberals and democrats in the European Parliament, said: "For the first time, European voters can see there is a direct link between how they voted and the leadership of the EU. This is an important step in our political development and an historic precedent. It means in the first place a strengthening of European democracy with still a long way to go to bridge the gap between the EU and its citizens."

Acting President of the European Parliament Gianni Pittella, said: "This unprecedented election process is an historic a turning point for the European Union. The ball is now firmly in the court of the European Parliament, and we will exercise our power swiftly, transparently and democratically. Jean-Claude Juncker now has the mandate to form a majority in the European Parliament. We as representatives of the people must now swiftly agree on a political programme for the next legislature. This will help Europe to finally get out of the crisis and make people's lives better."

Katja Hall, deputy-director general of the UK's business lobby CBI, said: “The recent election results were an unmistakable call for change and a better working Europe, so the new Commission leadership will need to be as good as their word on reforming the EU with jobs and growth top of the agenda. We all want a Europe that can compete with the rest of the world and so the time for a political tug-of-war has passed and the push for a more competitive EU must begin. When the new Commission gets to work it must have a greater focus on signing trade deals, completing the Single Market and making sure Europe only intervenes with regulation where it can genuinely add value.”

  • 1-3 July: First plenary session of the newly constituted European Parliament. Informal negotiations with EU heads of states
  • 14-17 July: Parliament votes to approve or reject Commission president nominee in Strasbourg plenary session;
  • 16-July: EU leaders will meet for an emergency summit to decide how to fill key posts,
  • Summer: National leaders designate their commissioners to Brussels. New president distributes portfolios within his team of 28 commissioners
  • September: Each commissioner is scrutinised in individual hearings before Parliament committees
  • October: European Parliament votes to approve or reject new Commission College as a whole
  • 1 November: Target date for new Commission to take office


bettysenior's picture

Juncher got in through a lot of horse trading behind closed doors as usual and where to get the backing of most of the EU28, promises were made that senior officials will get the top jobs (or the jobs that each country wanted for their own self-interest - nothing changed there then). That's all that happened and democracy and the people can go to hell. But who would vote for an EU where,
1. There is no democracy for the 500 million EU people
2. No accountability to the people
3. Limitless taxpayer's money pumped in and squandered
4. The books have never been signed off by auditors
5. UK NHS decimated with millions upon millions of UK immigrants using our free health service that will ultimately destroy it - no other EU nation has this and an overriding magnet compared to other EU countries.
6. Constant secret meetings behind closed doors for the TTIP between EU politicians and US politicians and when passed the mighty corporation will control trade through even more secrecy with secret courts to determine that they are entitled to a minimum profit if the do not obtain it the usual way.
7. With the TTIP in place corporations will be able to override sovereign laws and sue the people's governments for even more financial gain without any redress. Meaning that the people will pay even higher prices for goods and services and where this so-called free trade agreement is more to control trade by the iron fist of the corporation than to bring prices down - In other words a greater monopoly and only the rich and powerful will benefit. Read up on the TTIP if you do not believe that this is the case.
8. The UK's trade percentage wise with the EU prior to the UK joining has not gone up to this present day according to recent research ( The Civitas Report) - so no % increase in trade since we joined and where this red herring that we need to be in the EU for trade is totally false. Indeed if that was the case why hasn't our trade with the EU gone up percentage wise? No, we don't need to be in the EU and where they buy more from us that the UK buys from them - are they going to stop doing this and shoot themselves in the foot - I don't think so.
9. Constant overriding of the real wishes of the people of the EU, not the politicians. The list goes on and on and on.

Time to definitely come out as there is no financial or economic benefit in staying in. Indeed it is impoverishing the UK, based on all indicators and will continue to damage the future of the British nation until it is totally on its knees and where this is only a couple of decades away, the way things are going.

ge041075's picture

I wonder if people who make such comments have ever lived outside UK once. Your image of UK compared to continual Europe is funny far from the reality. Let me comment quickly:
1. There are European elections. Democracy seems to be possible in big multicultural countries like US.
2. The European Parliament is accountable to the people. It should be stronger. But most people in UK don’t like this.
3. EU Budget is fairly limited, especially compared to the US Administration. And UK managed to keep limiting fairly low. Thanks to Thatcher.
4. Who told you that? The books are signed off by national and European auditors.
5. UK NHS does not act as magnet. What a joke. That’s hilarious. NHS has not all a good reputation in Europe. Only British think that. Health care is free also in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Malta and the Nordic countries as well. And there you can choose your GP unlike in UK. That seems crazy for a liberal country like UK that people cannot even choose their doctor. And in most of Europe you don’t need to wait several months to get an appointment with a specialist. Why do you think that many English with chronically illness move to France or Belgium? They want to wait 9 months every time they need to see a specialist. Finally are aware that many retired English move to France, Spain, Portugal and Malta? And they heavily benefit from the health care system there. In Malta , nearly a third of the patients are from UK.
Your problem with NHS is national. And I think the immigrant you are referring to are from the commonwealth.
6. I hate the constant secret meetings behind closed doors. That’s called the European Council. That’s exactly what Cameron wants to strengthen. If you dislike the secret meetings you should be in favour of more power to the European Parliament which is more transparent and democratic.
7. I don’t like the TTIP (supported by Cameron by the way) either. UK has strong responsibility for the liberal views of the EC. That’s Thatcher heritage. Open market, competition and privatization. Take the train from Brighton to Bournemouth and you will quickly understand how “great” privatization/competition is. Free trade doctrine is good, especially for China (but probably not for the Chinese population).
8. The UK trade policy is suffers because of your national policy. First Thatcher destroyed your industry. That’s why you are now unable to compete with Germany. And trust me the consequences will last for longs. Just look at the automotive industry. Europeans will still buy UK products of course, but only if they comply with the EU legislation. And you won’t have say on those. Ask what Norway and Switzerland think of it. Do you know why the City is pro-European? UK is the keenest country to regulate the financial sector and this is good. Unfortunately, Cameron failed to convince the European Council, even though the European Parliament was supporting Cameron’s view.
9. Don’t forget that MEPs are elected by the people and they are the one voted for Junker. I would have preferred someone else but I accept it. It is called democracy.
To conclude, I agree that UK should leave the EU. But NOT for the reason you are mentioning. Don’t blame the EU because you have an incapable political elite. Don’t fight against the EU parliament if you don’t like the European Council. Don’t blame Europe because Cameron is too weak to influence the EU agenda. The only true reason to leave Europe is that UK has different political views than the majority of Europe. That’s OK but don’t blame others. I fear that UKIP won mostly because of immigration and the so-called social security threat. I understand that they want the expat Spanish workforce out of UK (they say it will be “good” for you Economy) and old the retired people back in England (if they are not EU citizen anymore they lose the right to live in Europe). I am looking forward to see the mess but it is your choice. It has to be respected. I hope you will leave the EU quickly and somehow regain some political weight.

GeorgeMc's picture

'A Londoner' answer will more than do for me. I have noticed that you failed to answer the question, define what a European is. I suspect that will be too difficult for you.

I skimmed your rather long post and felt that was only fair to correct one two factual errors:
The USA is a country, the EU is not. The USA has a working language, English. The EU has 24.
The UK pays net sterling 8 billion. Not exactly loose change!
In the UK you are free to choose a Doctor within your geographical area. I live in a small country town which has two Medical Practices with three Doctors each. I am free to choose my practice and doctor.
I suggest you check your facts on the cost of the NHS in France where some costs have to be covered by insurance.

You will also find that Spanish citizens correctly receive UK NHS treatment but UK visitors are regularly being refused treatment when presenting the correct documents. Something the EU commission has had to take up.
Do check your facts on exports from the UK by Jaguer/Land Rover, Nissan, Honda, Toyota etc.

You should not be so sarcastic to other posters where you disagree with them when you can't get your own facts correct!

Gerry's picture

This is a big day for Democracy in Europe.
For the first time Europeans will have a sense that their vote can make a difference, that they can influence things, that the parliament is not just some sort of decoration but a functioning political unit.
This is a new course for a new Europe, may it long continue.