Jean-Claude Juncker signaled that his Commission will be very different from that of his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso. Not only did he personally meet the press following the weekly College meeting. Juncker announced that he would not leave any unfair criticism coming from EU capitals without a reply.
In what looks like a revolution in the way the Commission communicates with the media, Juncker came to the press room following the weekly college meeting, the first one of his mandate.
Juncker briefed the press on the results of the first such meeting of his mandate, and took a few questions. But more importantly, he conveyed the message that EU heads of state and government would no longer be able to attack the Commission, being assured that the only response would be “no comment”.
“I don’t want to hide from you that I have the firm intention to respond to all unjustified criticism addressed to the Commission, no matter from where they come. I am not a guy who trembles before the Prime Ministers or before other high instances,” Juncker said, speaking in French.
Juncker’s announcement is likely a consequences of his indirect exchange with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who had told the press that even the EU’s so-called founding fathers would “become Eurosceptic if faced with” the EU’s bureaucrats and bureaucracy”.
At the last EU summit, Renzi also reportedly warned that he would make public the cost of EU “palaces” in a row over Italy’s budget projections.
In the meantime, other Italian officials, such as Sandro Gozi, the Under Secretary for European Affairs, have blamed the Commission for the current economic situation and advised that Italy “should not listen to the Brussels bureaucrats”.
To this, Juncker replied: “To say that the Commission has no right to mingle in a number of dossiers relevant to European economic coordination is tantamount to saying that we don’t receive lessons from Brussels bureaucrats, this is a way to describe the Commission which I find unpleasant.”
The Commission President repeated what he said in front of MEPs the previous day. “I’m not the chairman of a gang of anonymous bureaucrats. I’m the head of 28 political Commissioners. We are not bureaucrats, we are not high officials. That’s why each time that they try to undermine the Commission before it has even started work, I will react”, he said.
Juncker added that he had no particular problems with Renzi, who he holds in high esteem, or British Prime Minister David Cameron, who in his words didn’t have a problem with him, but rather had issues with the other Prime Ministers.
During the past ten years, EU heads of state and government have on numerous occasions often criticised the Commission, speaking to their home audience, without any reaction from Barroso. His spokespersons always said that they would not comment on what other leaders may have said.
The press is invited to be critical
Speaking in French, Juncker said he had found the press reports about the beginning of his term too laudatory and that this made him worry. He said that the impression he got was that he was expected that he should be able to deliver too much too fast.
“I’m afraid of disappointing you. So I would ask you to follow me with a degree of criticism. Because I’m strictly incapable of any auto criticism. So I need the criticism of others,” Juncker stated.
He also spoke with humour about the two historic personalities he is meeting during his first week in office: Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, whom he saw on Monday in Frankfurt, and former Commission President Jacques Delors, with whom he would address a public event in Brussels tomorrow.
“I’m well surrounded historically, by two people who are part of history, and me not being one. I am able to create stories (controversies), but real history, that was Kohl and Delors”, he said.
BEPA out, enters the ECSP
Juncker said he would put an end to BEPA, the Bureau of European policy advisers, and replace it with a European Centre for Strategic Policies. This structure, he said had been imagined by Jacques Delors. It would provide advice to Commissioners who would seek it, with sections on the economy, on social affairs, on sustainable development, on foreign affairs, on institutional affairs and on communication.
ECSP should be set up in January. But for the time being, Juncker said, that he was not able to say who would be put in charge of the new structure.
€300-billion package under discussion
On economic and social issues, 20 Commissioners took the floor, Juncker stated. A first debate over the €300 billion package to boost growth and jobs, which he pledged during his confirmation in Parliament in July took place, he added. The discussion, which was led by Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness will continue, and the package will be presented at the December summit.
Juncker also announced that Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for the euro and social dialogue will represent the Commission at the meeting of the European Central Bank tomorrow, while Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, responsible for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs will simultaneously represent the EU executive at the meetings of the Eurogroup and of Ecofin, the regular meeting of ministers of economy and finance.
“This is a chance for you to admire my organisational talent, because Mr Moscovici, in spite of his abilities, would be unable to be at the same time in Frankfort and in Brussels”, Juncker joked.