There is no clear backing for Jean-Claude Juncker or anyone else to become the next president of the European Commission, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said yesterday (5 June), following meetings between EU leaders on the sidelines of the Brussels G7 summit.
After talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s François Hollande and Britain’s David Cameron, Renzi said the first goal was to define the priorities for the next Commission and then decide on the right candidate to head the institution.
“No candidate has obtained a majority and this is a very important step, therefore we must find a common understanding,” he said. No country can decide the issue unilaterally, Renzi added, a possible dig at Britain which openly opposes Juncker.
“This is not the time and place for diktats or vetoes.”
The debate on the Commission post is shaping up to be one of the most poisonous battles Brussels has seen in years, with the risk that Britain could be pushed closer to leaving the EU if its opposition to Juncker is not heeded.
The former Luxembourg premier, who Cameron regards as an old-style federalist lacking the skills to shake up how the Commission does business, is supported by the European People’s Party, the EU’s largest centre-right political family.
The EPP won the most votes in European elections last month and will hold 221 of the 751 seats in parliament, a long way short of the majority needed to secure definitive backing for its candidate.
What’s more, it is up to EU leaders to nominate someone to the post “taking into account” the election results.
While Merkel has given Juncker firm support since the elections, she recognises that Cameron is against his appointment and other countries, including Sweden, Hungary and the Netherlands, have doubts about whether he is the right person for the job.
“We must not forget this is also about content. It is important to put together a package,” Merkel told a news conference after the summit.
Agreement on that would make it easier to agree on the right person for the job, she said.
Ultimately, the leaders must decide by a “qualified majority” on the nominee, which effectively means Cameron cannot block Juncker unless he is able rally support from another large member state and a handful of smaller ones.
EU leaders will discuss ideas over the coming weeks and Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, will try to build as a broad a consensus as possible among the 28 leaders.
Asked to comment on the issue after the G7 summit, Van Rompuy said consultations had been held, but that their aim was not to reach consensus at this stage. He added that he would hold talks with the European Parliament groups next week.
One proposal is for Van Rompuy to draft an agreement among the heads of state and government first on what priorities they want the Commission to tackle in the coming five years, and then move on to a discussion about who would be best to take on the task.
If that course is chosen, it is likely to be several weeks before the priorities are agreed and perhaps several more before a single name emerges, or even a slate of names for the half-dozen top jobs the EU must fill, including a foreign policy chief, a replacement for Van Rompuy and a finance commissioner.
“The important thing is to have candidates that can represent our common destiny with strength and determination,” Renzi said, adding that Italy “does not have a name or national candidate.”
EU leaders were expected to decide on a name – whether Juncker or someone else – by a summit at the end of June but that deadline is now in doubt.
Officials said it may be possible to reach a consensus by early July, before the new parliament holds its first session. Otherwise it may have to wait until September, after Europe’s summer holiday. The current Commission’s mandate does not expire until 31 October, giving leaders some time.
The European elections were held in all EU countries in May 2014. The Lisbon Treaty states that the European Parliament shall elect the commission president on the basis of a proposal made by the European Council, taking into account the European elections (Article 17, Paragraph 7 of the TEU). This will apply for the first time in the 2014 elections.
The European Parliament, parties and many others have pushed for European political parties to nominate their front-runners in the election campaigns. This will make the European elections a de facto race for commission president, politicise the campaigns and could increase voter turnout, they say.
But others have argued that the European parties’ push for their own candidates may not be the best solution. Raising expectations could easily lead to disappointment, Herman Van Rompuy has repeatedly said, calling for caution in case the council chooses another candidate than the winning party’s frontrunner.
The EU summit held on 27 May, two days after the European elections, gave a mandate to 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 [read more].
- 26-27 June: European Council in Brussels to decide on next EU Commission President