Liberals demand last-minute concessions in return for Juncker vote

[European Parliament/Flickr]

Jean-Claude Juncker [European Parliament/Flickr]

The liberals in the European Parliament have called for a last-minute reshuffle while the Greens decided to vote against the new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker. EURACTIV France reports

Parliamentary groups have been trying to extract last-minute concessions from Jean-Claude Juncker in the run-up to a confirmation vote on the new Commission team scheduled in Strasbourg on Wednesday (22 October).

The main areas of contention are the distribution of portfolios and the Commission’s priorities.

Despite having the support of the two main groups in the European Parliament, the new Commission President spent Tuesday negotiating with MEPs ahead of the vote on Wednesday.

The leader of the liberal (ALDE) group, Guy Verhofstadt, said on Tuesday “our group will make its decision tonight”.

Liberals not prepared to grant free reign

For the liberals, the major obstacle is Tibor Navrascis, the Hungarian Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship, whom Parliament has condemned for his close links to the government of Viktor Orban, with its less than shining record on civil liberties.

“We do not think he can take on the Citizenship portfolio. We expect clarification on this issue,” Guy Verhofstadt explained, adding that a reshuffle among the Commissioners was “absolutely necessary”.

“The hearings must have consequences,” he continued, referring to the Parliamentary Committee for Culture and Education’s vote to reject the Hungarian Commissioner on 6 October.

The division of economic competencies across different portfolios is another cause of scepticism in the liberal camp. “We have received a letter from Jean-Claude Juncker detailing the responsibilities of each Commissioner, which we will discuss this evening within our group,” Guy Verhofstadt said on Tuesday.

“Jean-Claude Juncker will respond to these questions on Wednesday. I am convinced his answers will be satisfactory,” said Manfred Weber, President of the EPP group, with which Jean-Claude Juncker is aligned.

If the liberals are still waiting for certain conditions to be met, the Socialists have already decided to vote in favour of the Juncker Commission, in spite of resistance from some parts of the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group. “We want the Commission to start work on 1 November, as planned,” stressed the President of the S&D group, Gianni Pittella.

>> Read: Parliament coalition restless ahead of Juncker Commission vote

Some national delegations within the S&D group have threatened not to toe the line in Wednesday’s vote. The Belgian Socialists remain undecided, and the Spanish delegation will rebel and vote against the College of Commissioners.

Assurances for the Socialists

The S&D group met on Tuesday night to discuss their official position on Wednesday’s vote. “I met the President on Monday evening and he gave me assurances that will influence our vote,” Pittella told a press conference in Strasbourg.

According to the Italian MEP, Jean-Claude Juncker has agreed to give details on his proposed 300 billion euro investment plan, to revise the posted workers directive and to place medicine policy under the jurisdiction of the Directorate General for Health, rather than Industry.

Caution over investment plan

Juncker’s promised 300 billion euro investment plan, which is supposed to relaunch economic growth in Europe, may hang like an albatross round the neck of the new Commission.

Guy Verhofstadt said “we are afraid this plan will not go far enough”. He added that the EU needed an investment more in the order of “1000 billion euros than 300 billion” in order to kick start the European economy.

“There is absolutely nothing concrete in this plan,” said Rebecca Harms, co-President of the Green group. “I had hoped that the European Commission, and particularly Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, would present a list of financing options and spending priorities,” she explained. Her group will be voting against adopting the College of Commissioners.

“Jean-Claude Juncker knows he has put his credibility on the line with this issue,” Socialist Gianni Pittella added.

Last stand

Mr Juncker will defend his College of Commissioners in Parliament on Wednesday morning, before the vote at midday.

This will be the President’s last chance to announce any concessions he intends to make to MEPs, and to gain the support of the liberals, which would ensure a comfortable majority.

Manfred Weber, President of the EPP group, said “I hope we will be able to give a strong mandate to the Juncker Commission.” He believes that it would send out a negative signal if the European executive’s President were to win this vote by a smaller majority than at his own election.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, announced the distribution of portfolios among his new team on 10 September.

Among the new Commissioners, due to take up their new roles on 1 November, are 18 former ministers or prime ministers. The Luxembourgish President is pleased that the new Commission will be "very political".

The new Commissioners will now be examined by the European Parliament, who will then vote on whether to accept or reject the Commission as a whole. The hearings took place from 29 September to 7 October. The Commissioners-designate were required to face questions from committees of MEPs with competences relevant to their portfolio.

Despite several candidates facing heavy criticism, only the former Slovene Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek was rejected outright by MEPs. The European Parliament must now accept or reject the College of Commissioners as a whole.

  • 22 October: MEPs vote on the Juncker Commission in the Strasbourg plenary session.
  • 1 November: Juncker Commission due to start work

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