MEPs flex their muscles ahead of Juncker approval vote

  
Jean-Claude Juncker in the European Parliament in Brussels, 8 July 2014 [© European Union 2014 - European Parliament]
Jean-Claude Juncker in the European Parliament. Brussels, 8 July. [European Parliament]

Jean-Claude Juncker began his tour of European Parliament political groups yesterday (8 July) and appears closer than ever to securing a majority. But Juncker's bid for the EU Commission Presidency may still be hanging by a thread as many MEPs are still undecided. EurActiv Germany reports.

Jean-Claude Juncker is on a promotional tour. Over the next two days, the 59 year-old will appear before the Parliament's political groups to discuss his agenda as potential Commission President for the next five years.

The hearings are meant to help parliamentarians decide whether or not they should vote for Juncker on 15 July. Shortly before the vote, the Luxemburger will present his political guidelines to the plenary.

But until then, Juncker still has a lot of convincing to do, said Michel Kaeding, a Jean-Monnet Professor for European Politics at the University of Duisburg-Essen.

"Juncker's election is by far not cut and dry yet," Kaeding told EurActiv Germany. 

The former Luxembourg Prime Minister needs at least 376 of 751 votes to win an absolute majority, and such an outcome is far from certain after the results of the European election, Kaeding said.

The grand coalition made up of the European People's Party (EPP) and Socialists (S&D) only has 55% of the new European Parliament. The minimum requirement for an absolute majority is only 36 votes.

"That is a very slim lead. Particularly in light of the fact that the MEPs are voting by secret ballot," Kaeding commented.

Opposing votes from own ranks?

According to Kaeding, there are dissenters within the S&D and EPP. There are 20 MEPs from the British Labour Delegation in the S&D who could vote against Juncker.

"In Great Britain, there is a domestic consensus extending beyond party lines that Juncker is not the right candidate," said the EU analyst.

At the EU summit, the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán voted against Juncker. For this reason, it can be assumed that the Hungarian Fidesz-Delegation in the EPP, consisting of 12 MEPs, will unanimously vote against Juncker.

"If one additionally considers the voting behaviour of many delegates during the EPP nomination congress in Dublin early this year, it becomes clear that the necessary majority in the Parliament is not guaranteed by the two largest political groups alone," said Kaeding.

German MEPs are also not unanimously behind Juncker. Kaeding claimed many centre-right German MEPs from Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Bavarian Christian Socials (CSU) voted against Juncker at the Dublin Congress. For this reason, he said, Juncker will need the support of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) and the European Greens.

'Grand coalition' support for Juncker

"I will vote for Mr. Juncker", declared Herbert Reul, co-chairman of the centre-right CDU/CSU Group in the European Parliament, in a statement for EurActiv.de. "I expect Juncker to pursue policies that correspond to our election agenda. I also do not believe that his election is not threatened in the European Parliament," Reul warned.

Speaking to EurActiv.de, Markus Ferber, a German MEP from the CSU, also showed his support for Juncker, but made his decision dependent on the content of the governing agenda.

Crucially, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) are expected to support Juncker. One week ago, MEPs from the EPP gave their votes to Social Democrat Martin Schulz, who was re-elected as President of the European Parliament. The voting behaviour was a part of a personnel package, according to which Juncker can depend on votes from the S&D Group during the Commission Presidency vote.

But the Juncker vote is "no formality", warned Udo Bullmann, chairman of the German Social Democratic Party's delegation in the European Parliament.

"Mr. Juncker will have to present concrete ideas over how he will address the massive investment gap, the creeping de-industrialisation of Europe and the social distortions. We will not be won over with empty phrases or with recycled ideas. There is too much at stake for people to do that," said Bullmann.

Liberals: No free ride for Juncker

The ALDE Group was even more critical of the Luxembourg nominee. "Juncker will not get a free ride from us Liberals", explained MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff from Germany's Free Democratic Party (FDP).

His political group was among the first to hold its hearing with Mr. Juncker on Tuesday (8 July). "We have a lot to discuss with Mr. Juncker", said the ALDE chairman Guy Verhofstadt before the hearing.

"Our three priorities are: strengthening the European Internal Market in energy, capital markets and new technologies, creating a dynamic migration and civil rights policy that takes into account rights for sexual minorities, and a Commission that can lead using its whole right of initiative," said Verhofstadt.

"For us Liberals it is clear: growth and new jobs must be at the centre of the Commission's political agenda. Furthermore, there must be absolutely no changes to the Stability and Growth Pact", said Graf Lambsdorff, a German liberal.

The ALDE made no statement after the hearing and it is not clear how many of its MEPs wil support Juncker in the plenary vote.

>> Follow the hearing on Twitter: #ALDEasksJuncker.

The European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) group was next in line to quiz Juncker on Tuesday. But with the British Tories so fiercely opposed to Juncker's nomination in the first place, the outcome was predictable.

"We cannot subscribe to the process that brought Mr Juncker to this point," said ECR chairman Syed Kamall, a British Conservative. "Despite a number of areas of policy convergence we felt that overall we share different views on the future direction of the EU. We hope that we are proved wrong but based on the process and this exchange of views, we cannot support Mr Juncker next week."

Greens: "We support the top candidate principle"

Today (9 July), Juncker will move on to the Green Party, which will broadcast its hearing at 9:00 in the morning via its website.

"After the discussion with Mr. Juncker we will decide between two paths, which we currently have in our political group", explained Rebecca Harms, co-chairman of the Green Party Group in the European Parliament, in a statement for EurActiv.de.

"On the one hand there is support for Juncker because he was one of the top candidates in the European elections and we supported the top candidate principle from the beginning. But on the other hand there is the rejection of Juncker, because he stands for the wrong policies", said Harms.

At the hearing, Juncker will be asked explain how he intends to lead Europe out of the economic trough. European investment programmes should orient themselves according to sustainable goals. In the debate over a European Energy Union the Luxembourger should not move back in the direction of fossil fuels, the Green politician said.

Even if the ALDE Group and the Greens give the EPP top candidate the votes he needs to survive, Juncker must also compare himself to his predecessors, Kaeding said.

Current Commission President José Manuel Barosso was chosen in 2004 with 61% of the votes. In 2009, it was 53% of the parliamentary vote. Jacques Santer won 52% in 1994.

"A result, under 53% would be put a damper on the top candidate experiment", said Kaeding.

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