Parliament elects ‘politically ecumenical’ Juncker as Commission President

Jean-Claude Juncker [EBS]

The ‘Spitzenkandidat’ of the centre-right EPP group Jean-Claude Juncker has been elected today (15 July) to lead the European Commission from 1 November, with a massive vote from MEPs, with the Socialists and the Liberals praising the many openings he made in his election speech towards their own political priorities.

The European Parliament confirmed Juncker as European Commission President, by 422 votes in favour out of 729. He needed at least 376. 250 MEPs voted against, 47 abstained and 10 votes were considered invalid.

In his speech preceding the vote, Juncker himself said he had tried to be “as ecumenical as possible” by presenting to the European Parliament his project for priorities of the European Commission for the next five years.

In particular, the group of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) praised the fact that he put a figure on his plan to boost the EU’s economy and create jobs.

Juncker said that within the first three months of his mandate, he would present “a Jobs, Growth and Investment Package” to generate an extra € 300 billion in investment over the next three years, a statement saluted by S&D leader Gianni Pittella.

At certain points, Juncker, who in his capacity has been part of the decision-making addressing the Eurozone crisis, appeared self-critical and a proponent of a more socially-oriented approach to the effort to impose austerity on overspending economies.

Juncker said that the rescue of the euro “was necessary, but was weak on the social side”.

Applause from the left

“It is unacceptable to me that workers and retired people had to shoulder the burden of structural reform programmes, while ship owners and financial speculators became even richer. In the future, we need a more democratically legitimate replacement for the Troika, and thorough social impact assessments for any new support programmes,” he said, applauded by the Socialist MEPs.

Without mentioning Russia, the future Commission President also signalled his intention to make sure that energy not be used as a political tool, and that the energy dependence of several member states would be reduced.

“It’s time Europe stood tall on its own feet, pooling our resources, combining infrastructures, and uniting our negotiating power,” he said.

Juncker also paid tribute to Ukraine, calling this country European and saying that it has its place in Europe. So far, the EU has been shy in adding the adjective “European” to its relation with Ukraine, out of fear that a promise of future EU membership might become too burdensome for the Union.

Some of the statements by Juncker could be interpreted as signals to London that he too would push for a less bureaucratic Union.

“SMEs are the backbone of our economies, creating 85% of new jobs in Europe – we can’t bury them in paperwork. We must unshackle them from burdensome regulation,” Juncker said, adding that he wanted to work for a Union “that is not meddlesome, but works for its citizens, rather than against them”.

Jean-Claude JUNCKER, candidate for President of the Commission

The incoming Commission President also drew applause by advocating for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), while at the same time saying this goal would not be pursued at any price.

“I want a reasonable and balanced trade agreement with the US. But I will not sacrifice Europe’s safety, health, social and data protection standards, or our cultural diversity, on the altar of free trade,” Juncker said.

He also said that without transparency, TTIP was doomed, and appealed for the most relevant texts concerning the negotiations to be published. He also said he would make sure that the EU lobbyist register would become mandatory.

On immigration policy, on the one hand, Juncker said he would defend the principle of free movement of workers inside the EU, which he called an opportunity, and not a threat. Regarding immigration from third countries, he said he would step up cooperation with them to deal with irregular migration more robustly, while promoting “a new European policy on legal migration to put Europe on the map as a favourite destination for talent”.

Juncker also revealed some of his plans for the future architecture of the Union. He said that his firm conviction was that all EU countries should not move forward necessarily at the same speed. He also said that he was in favour of a separate budget for the Eurozone countries.

Regarding future Commissioners appointments, Juncker said he would put in charge a commissioner responsible for EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. He also said he would seek gender balance in the EU executive.

>> Read: Juncker wants more women in new Commission team

Regarding enlargement, Juncker said that no new countries were expected to join the Union over the next five years, but that ongoing accession negotiations would continue. He also said that Europe should be proud of its reunification, and that it was time to stop calling countries “old” and “new” members.

Tribute to Delors

Juncker paid tribute to vintage politician Jacques Delors, widely seen as the most visionary EU leader. Delors served as Commission president from 1985 to 1994 and is seen as a champion of the community method, in contrast of the traditional inter-governmental method.

In his speech, which he delivered in French, German and English, Juncker also praised French President François Mitterrand (1981-1995) and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998) for their contribution to the EU project.

Juncker received support from his own EPP group, from S&D, from the liberal ALDE group, and from the Green group. However, except from his own group, all speakers said the support should not be seen as a “blank cheque”.

Conversely, the conservative ECR group, the leftist GUE/NGL group, as well as Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP and Martine Le Pen, leader of Front national, said they would vote against him. Le Pen was more violent in her attacks, and Juncker drew applause by saying he was happy that she would not vote for him, as he didn’t want any approval from “those who exclude”.

A diplomat told EURACTIV that the highly laudatory speech by Pittella, an Italian politician from the political force of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, could be interpreted as a sign that a deal was already struck to appoint Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as EU foreign affairs chief. EU leaders meet tomorrow in Brussels to discuss on the successors of the present incumbent Catherine Ashton, as well as of the successor to Council President Herman van Rompuy.

Juncker will now send official letters to the member states’ leaders, inviting them to propose their candidate members of the Commission.

For the EPP group, Manfred Weber (DE) said:

"Today is a good day for Europe, as the EU has become more democratic. The voters have co-decided, for the first time, on the top position of the European Commission and its political orientation.” […]

“Jean-Claude Juncker is the right man at the right time, a man who stands for consensus", he added. Mr Weber named four priorities of his group for the next Commission term: growth, monetary stability, more respect for national Parliaments, and an EU looking again beyond its borders.

For the S&D group, Gianni Pittella (IT) said: "Lessons from the crisis: all rules need to be applied, but at the service of citizens. Another lesson: we need more democracy (...). We support you, Mr Juncker, because we believe you have learned those lessons, particularly on the need for democracy". But "Our vote in favour is not a blank check, we will be intransigent", he added. Mr Pittella also said "A proper balance needs to be struck between financial stability and the need for investment: we need more investments for growth and employment, a more social Europe and greater solidarity, especially on immigration issues".

For the ECR group, Syed Kamall (UK) said: "The election which was supposed to end all background deals has become the mother of all background deals",explaining that his group would not support Mr Juncker's bid because of the election process, but also because "we do not believe that you are the adequate man to lead Europe in the future years"."Europe needs a leadership that looks forward, not backwards", Mr Kamall argued, adding that that leadership needs to build a single market fit for the new era, set up more interconnected energy sources and negotiate more open and transparent trade agreements in the coming years.

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt welcomed the outcome of the Spitzenkandidat process and outlined Juncker's commitment to implement ALDE political priorities as part of his programme for reforming and rejuvenating Europe.
"By voting for Mr Juncker today, we are consolidating European democracy and the fact that the voters got to decide who leads the European Commission," Verhofstadt said.
The ALDE leader said his group supported Juncker for his commitment to a political programme that fully reflects their own priorities, in particular on:
- the commitment to develop a dual strategy based on fiscal discipline and new growth. There is no choice between austerity and growth, we need both.
- the commitment that the European Union is more than a common market alone. That it is also a Union of values and that a commissioner will have specific responsibility for the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the rule of law.
- the commitment for a real gender balanced commission."
"Our continued support for Mr Juncker remains conditional on his ability and determination to return to the community method, to stop the slide to the intergovernmental arrangements of recent years and to work closely together with the European Parliament," Verhofstadt stressed.

For the GUE/NGL group, Gabriele Zimmer (DE) said:

"I don't share this common euphoria. This is just a first step, but not democracy's victory. Democracy has also failed. 3.5 times more people did not vote for the conservatives than those who did. They either voted for something else or they did not vote at all. We have all lost these elections. My group will not support you, but we will monitor your work daily during the coming years." […]

"We expect some clear answers from you. How do you intend to reform the work of the Troika? What will you do to the problem of debt? What exactly is your idea for minimum salaries – do you want a salary one can actually live on?"

For the Greens/EFA group Philippe Lamberts (BE) said:

"If 25% of Europeans are on the verge of poverty and social exclusion, if 10% of us own 60% of Europe's collective wealth, if the climate is deregulated to the point of resulting in a global warming of 6 degrees, and if 30% of all non-renewable resources have been used up in the last 30 years, then the very existence of our societies is in danger. Will you be the man to put through the reforms needed to tackle these challenges?" [...]

I honestly want to believe you, and a certain number of the members of our group want to support you, as we believe that the process which has brought you here today is clearly a modest step towards a more democratic Europe. But other of our members do not trust you to be the man for the necessary reforms, and hence are divided."

The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) welcomed Juncker's commitment to a mandatory lobby register and to provide proactive transparency about EU decision-making.

Max Bank of LobbyControl, a member of the steering committee of ALTER-EU, said: “We welcome Mr Juncker's commitment for the Commission to introduce an inter-institutional agreement to Parliament and Council to create a mandatory lobby register covering all three institutions. This step is long overdue and the proposal needs to follow quickly, by the end of 2015 at the latest. We will closely monitor developments on this issue to ensure Mr Juncker sticks to his promise.”

After weeks of discussion and a bruising confrontation with Britain, EU leadersy gave the thumbs up to the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the European Commission for the next five years at their summit on 27 June.

>> Read: EU leaders give thumbs up to Juncker, Britain isolated

The decision, which now has to be approved by the European Parliament at its mid-July plenary session took centre stage on the EU's political scene since the European elections took place on 25 May, amid fierce resistance by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Juncker is seen as the legitimate candidate for the post because he campaigned during the European elections as the leading figure of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which won the largest number of seats in Parliament.

Most EU parties have accepted this logic but Cameron refused it, saying Juncker's candidacy did not appear on the ballotpapers at the May EU election.

  • 16 July: Special European Council to discuss nominations for other EU positions;
  • July-August: Member states designate their candidates for commissioners;
  • EP Plenary session: vote of consent by the European Parliament on the new Commission as a whole - President and members including the High Representative;
  • 23-24 October: European Council;
  • 1 November: New Commission expected to take office;
  • 1 December: New President of the European Council takes office

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