If Juncker falls, it should be in a battle, not a coup

Disclaimer: all opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EurActiv.com PLC.
Paweł Świeboda
Paweł Świeboda, President of demosEUROPA - Centre for European Strategy

Though the EPP is not compelled to choose Jean-Claude Juncker as its nominee for the Commission presidency, Juncker should nonetheless be allowed to lead the talks if he earns a qualified majority, and the UK should learn to “live with it”, argues Paweł Świeboda.

Paweł Świeboda is President of demosEUROPA - Centre for European Strategy

For some, the results of the European Parliament elections have been a call to arms. In Britain, there has rarely been more unity between the government and the opinion-makers than in the current fight to shoot down Jean-Claude Juncker as a candidate for President of the European Commission. Whatever their position on the country’s future in the EU, many British friends now consider Mr Juncker to be a national enemy. We have seen this before. Ten years ago, Britain torpedoed another “federalist” candidate Guy Verhofstadt, at the time the Belgian Prime Minister.

The battle is more about symbolism than substance. Paradoxically, Jean-Claude Juncker would actually help to deliver the kind of European Union, which Britain seems to want – a two-tier one with stronger integration of the Eurozone and a constructive relationship with non-eurozone countries. Juncker understands well the need to keep Britain on board and could have the clout to negotiate a deal that would address London’s concerns. However, the British debate is at a stage where political blood is all that matters.

Of course, there should be no automatism between the electoral success of the European People’s Party and Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination to the post of the Commission President. Beyond doubt, the idea of the spitzenkandidaten was put forward by the Parliament to claim a bigger role for itself in the EU system. At the same time, selecting top candidates has helped the debate about the EU agenda in the next five years. What is to be done and who is going to do it are two sides of the same coin. It is not negligible either that the top candidates have been endorsed by a number of national leaders.

Jean-Claude Juncker is not a favourite among many of the younger EU member states. He has not done an awful a lot to cherish support in Central Europe. And he does embody the traditional vision of the European Union, one focused on creating an ever closer bond. It is hard to see him as a champion of the entrepreneurial, digital-savvy Europe which people in our part of the continent want to see. However, the more furious the British resistance becomes, the more difficult it is for the rest of Europe to simply go along and wave good-bye to Mr Juncker. All the more so that a procedure is in place in the treaty, accepted by all, which does not envisage a veto over this nomination.

The best that Herman van Rompuy can do next is to invite Jean-Claude Juncker to the next European Council at the end of June and ask him to make the case for the leadership of the Commission. The presidency of the Commission should be subject of a political debate, rather than a product of backroom deals. Everybody would need to make their views known there, not hide behind the scapegoats. A heated discussion would result but one which would clear the air. If Juncker masters a qualified majority at the time, he should get the nomination and Britain should learn how to live with it.

A more honourable way out would be for David Cameron to put the Tories’s membership of the EPP on the table. This would change the political logic of the discussion. In one of the less understandable moves at the beginning of his term, the British Prime Minister implemented a pledge he had made to some of his faithful soldiers and created a separate grouping in the European Parliament with the Polish opposition Law and Justice. The British MEPs immediately lost influence over some of the key levers of power in the Parliament. If Cameron declares willingness to return to the EPP, he would gain a mandate to renegotiate Jean-Claude Juncker’s future role.

All in all, something needs to happen soon to fix the politics of the nomination process. It can either go full length towards a genuine confrontation with the British, which would be deeply regrettable. Or the facts need to change on the ground. David Cameron should think carefully about his options.   




Joe Thorpe's picture

Junker didnt field any candidates in the UK, neither did Shulz how can this be democracy? His victory is as legitimate as Assad in Syria when he dodged parts of his electorate he didnt like

Polit.panda's picture

First of all Juncker is not at fault that the Tories left the EPP and could not put forward there own canidate and secondly labour did not endorse Schulz which I dont blame on Schulz I blame it on labour and I am actually quiet disappointed about that decission. So overall yes in the UK if you wanted to vote for Juncker you could have done so by looking at the smaller parties. However Juncker and Schulz managed to get massive support from most of the EU member states and overall got the strongest share of votes. And as somone who lives in Scotland I am actually just laughing about the litte Englanders suddenly complaining but we did not vote for him yes you did not but Europe did and as a part of it you have to live with it its democracy just like Scotland has to live with a Con-dem Coalition while being home to more Pandas than conservative MPs!

GeorgeMc's picture

The serious question here is how do people like Juncker and Shulz get the nomination to stand in the first place? How can the best candidates be brought to the fore from a population of 510 million? That is what should be debated.

I am in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but even I would admit that it is in all our interest to see a successful Euro group.

Your disappointment at Labour not supporting Shulz should tell you something, as indeed their decision today to announce that they do not believe that Juncker is the man for the job either. Your assertion that the rest of Europe voted for the candidates is laughable. The 35% who bothered to vote, did so, based on their national politics, with a large percentage of them voting to leave the EU. Very few of them said when they voted, Juncker, that's the man for me.

On your winge about not getting who you voted for I have given it a rough check and we have since the end of WWII until 2010, had labour in power for 30 years and the conservatives for 35 years. Is your point that if you don't get the government you voted for it is not fair?

I am also a Scot and if in September we vote for Independence, we will probably be in for years and years of left wing politics. It might make you happy, but if you want to keep the tax take high you had better get the electric fences up now to stop those terrible conservatives leaving the country.

The Panda joke was funny the first few times. Time to move on and get a new script writer.