'No momentum' for Juncker: EU leaders leave options open

  
Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and Herman Van Rompuy ahead of a EU Summit [President of the European Council/Flickr]
Jean-Claude Juncker (gauche) et Herman Van Rompuy. [Président du Conseil européen/Flickr]

EU heads of state and government on Tuesday night in Brussels (27 May) gave a mandate to Council President Herman Van Rompuy to start consultations in view of electing a new Commission President, leaving the door open to other options, rather than nominating the winning centre-right candidate in the EU elections, Jean-Claude Juncker. 

The special EU summit, which took place two days after the European elections, ended with a lacklustre statement of Van Rompuy, who said that this “first discussion” had been “useful”, a diplomatic euphemism for inconclusive.

Belgian style

Van Rompuy, a former Belgian Prime Minister, has been assigned the responsibility of conducting Belgian-style consultations, to elect the next Commission President. With its complex political structure, Belgium has gathered enormous know-how on the formation of coalition cabinets.

The next Commission President must have the support of both a qualified majority of EU leaders, and be able to command a large majority in European Parliament, in order to pass difficult legislation.

Van Rompuy made it clear he would not embark on a collision course with the European Parliament, saying that the Council took note of a declaration of the Presidents of the political groups of the EP, adopted hours before, and that he will be in touch with those Presidents, as soon as their groups are formed.

The Parliament has stated that the candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), Jean Claude Juncker, will be the first to attempt to form the required majority, as this group won the elections. The EPP has 213 MEPs, followed by the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) with 191 and the liberals (ALDE) with 64.

The name of Juncker was however not even mentioned by Van Rompuy in his statement, a clear indication that leaders keep all their options open.

Merkel: new candidates still acceptable

Speaking at her own press conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed this impression by stating that the Council is bound to come up with its own proposal for candidates under the Lisbon Treaty.

"As a member of the EPP, I proposed Jean-Claude Juncker as President for the European Commission. I supported him. I have not forgotten this one day after the election. But still I'm bound by the European treaties," Merkel told Brussels' press corps.

The German Chancellor, uncharacteristically upset while taking questions, added that it should still be acceptable to suggest new candidates to the Parliament. She said she prefers "thoroughness over speed", and not following the Treaty has previously moved the EU towards a catastrophe.

Merkel said that EU leaders had discussed new priorities for the Commission during dinner which include jobs, growth, energy and climate and new candidates would have to have a track record of good labour market proposals, sound public finances and good climate policies.

"One has to look at who one wants to cooperate with. We want to look at programmes, content and we will have the question of personality again. At the end, there will be a fairly broad tableau of persons on the table. Then one has to think of how one can accommodate the socialists, the EPP and so on," Merkel said.

"On the first day after the elections, you expect me to have everything solved? That's going too far."

EU reform

British Prime Minister David Cameron chose in his communication not to focus on the election of the next Commission President, but rather on the need to reform Europe.

“We need an approach that recognizes that Brussels has become too big, too bossy, too interfering,” he said.

French president François Hollande also pleaded for reform, but of a different type.

“I want the mandate for this Commission to focus on growth, employment and energy - and more protection,” Hollande said.

The French President also said that the surge of the far-right in France needed to be seen in a European contest. Marine Le Pen's National Front won the European elections in France, with 24.85% of the vote, followed by the centre-right UMP at 20.8% and the Socialist Party, with 13.98%.

If one-in-four voters in France, a founding member of the EU, votes for the extreme right, then we have a problem. But it is not only a problem for France, it is a problem for Europe,” Hollande said.

The anti-Juncker group

An EU senior official told EurActiv that the EU leaders didn't discuss other names than that of Juncker, during their informal dinner. He made it clear, however, that Juncker's name “wasn't getting momentum”. The heads of the EU member states also discussed the effectiveness of the Spitzenkandidat system, the official said, but had for the most part been interested in discussing the Commission's future political priorities.

According to EurActiv sources from the EPP pre-summit meeting, two leaders, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Sweden’s Frederik Reinfeldt, openly spoke out against the Spitzenkandidaten system, a way of objecting to Juncker as Commission President.

The source said there appeared to be an 'anti-Juncker group led by Cameron, who is not a member of the EPP club, as he founded his own European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) Group. The discussion in the EPP meeting was reportedly hectic and at the end, some leaders were asking each other if they understood what had been decided.

The source also said Merkel was supportive of the Spitzenkandidaten system and of Juncker, but made no strong statements to discipline the dissidents. At the Council doorstep Merkel declared: "Jean-Claude Juncker is our Spitzenkandidat."

Who else could it be?

In bilateral discussions at the EPP pre-summit, the name of IMF chief Christine Lagarde was reportedly mentioned. However, French Socialist sources have told EurActiv that it would be political suicide for Hollande to propose Lagarde, who is from the EPP camp and moreover, as IMF chief, has spearheaded austerity policies rejected by the European centre-left.

The two other alternative candidates mentioned by sources at the Council summit was Finland's Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen or Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. At the Council doorstep, Katainen, who will step down as prime minister next month as he is openly pursuing an EU top job, said that he hopes there won't be any political games concerning the election of the Commission President.

Meanwhile Thorning-Schmidt decided not to show up at the Party of European Socialists (PES) pre-Council meeting in downtown Brussels. She also declined to speak to journalists at the Council doorstep.  

Positions: 

Hannes Swoboda, member of the European Parliament and President of the Socialist and Democrats group, tweeted: "Absurd that Juncker has our backing to start negotiations but is blocked in the European Council by his own EPP family!"

Timeline: 
  • 26-27 June: Next EU Council summit may decide to nominate a candidate for Commission President.
External links: 
Advertising

Comments

an european's picture

"new candidates still acceptable"

We have already candidates !!!!

"New" candidates by bypassing the parliaments proposed candidates is a breaching of the E.U. Treaty !

Hope the E.U. Parliament will rally !!!

John's picture

These guys don't get it. The Commission as an institution is an aberration. It is undemocratic and has made national governments weak. Time to put the EC out to pasture.

Mike Parr's picture

How is the EC an aberration? It is an administration - why would an administration (i.e. bureaucrats) be "democratic - that's what parliaments are for.

If you live in the UK, you might just as well say "time to put the UK civil service out to pasture". You are not stupid are you John?

Eurochild's picture

Irish voters would disagree with you, John. They specifically voted in a referendum that each member-state would forever appoint a commissioner. The original Lisbon Treaty foresaw reduction of the number of commissioners, but this was rejected in a referendum. So, the Lisbon Treaty was amended to reflect those concerns and the Irish people then voted in favour of the amended Lisbon Treaty once it included the assurance that every member-state would always be represented by its own Commissioner.

So, if you want to "put the EC out to pasture" then you will be going against the democratically-stated will of the Irish people, as expressed in a referendum.

Besides, I'm not sure how the EU would function without an executive Commission. And, if you think the Commission is undemocratic, does that mean you support its direct election? If so, then you support the idea of Juncker, Schulz, etc. as candidates for Commission president.

"an european", you obviously haven't comprehended the EU treaties (i.e. Lisbon treaty) which states that the EU Council, not the parliament, selects the Commission president. There is nothing in the treaties about candidates and how the Commission president is elected through the European parliament elections.

Mike Parr's picture

UK PM Moron-con has no legitimacy to block any candidate, given the outcome of the elections.

Gerry's picture

The only reason Cameron all the sudden stands there demanding change is because UKIP mopped the floor with him. The only improvements he would discuss earlier were points that would improve Britain's position uniquely. Now he wants policies to improve employment, across the board, EU wide. People will go on ignoring him, since his statements are made to influence British politics, as are these ones. They may have a dog in this fight, but it is chained up behind the shed.
Merkel is right if she says to take it slowly. A lot has changed , the outcome is not at all as clear as could have been expected, a lot depends on getting this decision right, and a lot of people need to discuss where to go from here. They must have the time to make the proper decision, if we're not going to make things worse.

an european's picture

@ Eurochill

I've long ago comprehended the EU treaties ! thanks anyway !
Because of the some new democratic powers given to the parliament should for the first time , no, but forever be respected! And Candidates are there now and thus should be respected instead Damp Ragging an uncandidate for the commission !
The parliament won't let pass this stink behavior because of Cam*ron or the grey Damp Rag which in mentality have InSolidarity as well ego behaviors continue to undemocraticize! When will this Damp Rag be retired or fired???

TinuzH's picture

And what powers are those @an european? The Lisbon treaty says nothing about "spitzenkandidaten". The EP made that up for themselves. As far as I'm aware the wording is something like this: "The European Council will take into account the election results." Well since the EPP, might be the biggest party, but certainly not a winner since they lost a lot of seats, makes the whole thing a bit academic. But for arguments sake let's respect that the EEP is the biggest party and therefore the new head of the commission should come from them. Then there's still plenty of other, and more ambitious people that want to move the EU forwards in whatever shape or form, than yesterday's man Juncker. Appointing him will really be an insult to the minority that did vote.

an european's picture

@TimuzH

Maybe you miss the last train about the choices of candidates ....

Seems a problem for you the :"spitzenkandidaten"

That yesterday's man Juncker is in NO way "yesterday" !
But it seems that as Cameron cries : to much fedral?
A fedral man is never yesterday-ed like you but objectively seen present and future oriented!
However you can debate this with Swiss German and British economic experts !
Unlike Camaron which will Brexit soon and then dictate or even blackmailing with an "emergency" exit to other States Leaders against Him.
What a behavior ..

TinuzH's picture

In my view appointing someone like Juncker (and not because of the blackmailing Cameron) would endorse the powergrap by the EP - which is no where in the Lisbon treaty - and is every bit as blackmailing as Cameron is. It's not only Cameron who does not want him, also NL, SE, HU etc. Endorsing a man, who although has the most seats but also lost the most seats, shows a lack of an ambition on the part of the EU. The EU needs fresh thinkers and ambitious people to move the whole project into this century and needs to do so before the people come to burn down the house. And Juncker - who has been there forever - is just not the man to do it.

EurActors