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”.
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.
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.