Merkel meets the anti-Juncker front in Stockholm

Jean-Claude Juncker [dpa]

Jean-Claude Juncker [DPA]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet British PM David Cameron and her Dutch and Swedish counterparts today (9 June) in Stockholm to try to square the circle over the appointment of the next commission president ahead of the EU summit at the end of the month.

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.

It is now up to EU leaders to nominate someone to the post “taking into account” the election results.

However, last week, on the sidelines of Brussels G7 summit, it appeared there was a no clear backing for Jean-Claude Juncker or anyone else to become the next president of the European Commission.

After talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, France’s François Hollande and Britain’s David Cameron, Italian Prime Minister Matteo 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.”

Ahead of the two-day meeting in Stockholm, Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt raised questions about the credibility of the process for filling the top job in Brussels.

“For me and for Sweden, we have put in question the process itself,”  Reinfeldt told in an interview to the Financial Times.

“We do not support the idea because it would make it impossible for any other candidate and rule out a lot of potential commission presidents,” he said. “We should take care of the balance between different institutions.

According to the British paper, the Swedish centre-right premier is seen as a possible compromise candidate for the top Brussels job. But Reinfeldt has said his sole priority is the national elections due on September 14, in which is centre-right party is expected to be defeated as polls suggest.

Another alternative candidate, Christine Lagarde, the French president of the International Monetary Fund, said on Sunday that she was “flattered and honoured” to be seen in Britain as a potential Commission president, but repeated her determination to continue to the end of her mandate in Washington.

A decision needs to be taken ahead of the first plenary session of the new European Parliament at the beginning of July where new MEPs are expected to l vote on the European Council’s nomination.

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.

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