Juncker may punish Cameron with top job carve-up

Jean-Claude Juncker [Conseil Européen]

Britain may come away empty-handed when EU leaders finalise a package of top EU jobs next week, due to its fierce opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker's appointment as the next European Commission president.

Prime Minister David Cameron angered his peers in June by breaking with a tradition of taking decisions by consensus and forcing a vote on whether Juncker should head the EU executive. Only Britain and Hungary voted "no".

Cameron branded Juncker a "career insider of Brussels" and said his selection was a bad day for Europe.

"After the mess at the last summit, many leaders are much less willing to accommodate Britain, far less reward it with top jobs," one EU diplomat said.

The leaders, meeting in Brussels for dinner next Wednesday, are to agree with Juncker who should be the EU's next foreign policy chief, replacing Britain's Catherine Ashton, whose term ends in October.

The may also decide who will chair their summits and act as a consensus builder and mediator among member states when European Council President Herman Van Rompuy steps down at the end of the year.

The choices are complex because of the need to balance gender, political affiliation, small and large countries, and north, south, east and west.

Because Juncker, the former Luxembourg premier set to win a comfortable endorsement by the European Parliament on Tuesday, is from the centre-right and western Europe, the leaders may look for socialists or women from northern, eastern or southern Europeans for the other two posts.

To ease a compromise, they are likely to discuss candidates for other key EU positions due to come up over the next 12 months, even if they only reach an informal understanding.

Key to solving the puzzle will be the allotment of 27 portfolios -- one for each EU country -- in the new Commission that will start work from November under Juncker.

Some jobs in the EU's executive are more coveted because they wield more power, such as competition, trade, economics, energy and the internal market, covering financial and business regulation.

Britain has not put forward a candidate for foreign policy chief or European Council president, but diplomats said it was hoping for a big economic portfolio - the internal market, trade or competition - in the new Commission.

However, under EU law it is up to Juncker to decide which country gets which job.

"None of these portfolios is likely to go to Britain. You don't reward someone who is against you," a second EU diplomat said.

Mogherini in pole-position

Italy's Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini is front-runner to become the new EU "foreign minister", diplomats said, not least because leaders are keen to reward reform-minded Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who is pushing her candidacy hard.

In addition to her political skills, Mogherini is a Socialist and a woman, even if some EU diplomats question her foreign policy experience. The gender criterion carries a lot of weight for Commission jobs as Juncker would like to have more women in his team then the current Commission's nine.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, though male and conservative, is also a strong candidate, diplomats said, as is centre-right Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva, now EU Commissioner for International Cooperation.

Diplomats say Social Democratic Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has quite broad support to become the next European Council president, but she may fall short because she is not from a euro zone country.

The French government is not keen to see the job go to a euro outsider, but some diplomats say Paris could trade support for her for the heavyweight economic and monetary portfolio for its former Socialist finance minister Pierre Moscovici.

Married to the son of former British Labour party leader Neil Kinnock, Thorning-Schmidt would also have London's support.

"The Danish prime minister appears to be a choice acceptable to almost everybody and she could act as a bridge with Britain," a third EU diplomat said.

If she is blocked, centre-right Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny is seen as a possible consensus candidate. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, a right-wing liberal, also has a chance, as could centre-right Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

"I don't rule out an incomplete package next week without the name of Van Rompuy's successor," said an EU official briefed on the preparations. "They don't need to fill that job until the autumn."

Eurogroup presidency

Another post that may come into the equation is the chairman of euro zone finance ministers, the Eurogroup, now held by Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who juggles national responsibilities with the pan-euro zone role.

Euro zone leaders now want a full-time Eurogroup president, possibly appointed for five years, rather than the 2-1/2 year part-time contract, which for Dijsselbloem ends in mid-2015.

Conservative Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos is widely seen as the likely successor to Dijsselbloem, unless the Dutchman were reappointed

  • 15 July: Parliament votes to elect Jean-Claude Juncker as EU Commission president
  • 16 July: EU leaders gather in Brussels for first discussions on the Commission team
  • 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
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Gerry's picture

"You don't reward somebody who is against you" , a more productive attitude might have been Keep your friend close, but your enemies closer! Then you can catch them in time when they start plotting against you.
However everything in the Parliament is achieved by negotiation and consensus building. Although this opens it up to accusations of "back room deals" the reality is that with this many countries who all have a history of war with each other, it just has to be this way. In that respect the EU is fundamentally different then politics in the UK or USA, where parliamentary proceedings are settled by domination and confrontation. Cameron still has difficulty with the concept.
As far as the foreign ministry is concerned, there can be only one person suitable and that is Radoslav Sikorsky. Give the other jobs to the women but this position needs a strong male capable of saying "no".

Kathleen Garnett's picture

Are you seriously suggesting that women are incapable of saying "no"? Should women still be teaching knitting classes? Or how about the Kindergarten portfolio that's right up their street, right? Give 'em Culture or Tourism. I know that Catherine Ashton has cut a refreshingly low-key figure on the Brussels scene but stayig out of the lime light does not equate to incompetence or inability. Hilary Clinton? Does she look like a lady who rolls over and acquieces when cofronted with challenging global situations? Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF? Not a foreign policy post admittedly but international enough for her to have to deal with enough male ego's and I'm sure she has had to say "no" on many, many occassions. As no doubt did many of her predecessor's assistants who caught the eye of their boss, DSK - possibly to the detriment of their careers. Many women like to think that sexism is a thing of the past but then I read posts like this and realise, well I'll be damned.

Gerry's picture

These women are exceptional individuals. Presently i am not convinced that the current crop of female EU candidates for the position are of that calibre. However to turn this High Commissioner bla bla into a genuine Foreign Office whose word carries weight, my choice remains Sikorski.