Opinion, ideas, initiatives European Commission Presidency

How to break the deadlock over Juncker

Faced with David Cameron’s threat to veto the nomination of the former prime minister of Luxembourg to lead the European executive, the only way to ensure respect for democracy is to make Juncker’s candidacy the subject of a vote in parliament.

Published on 13 June 2014 at 11:01

In a previous article, I explained how British Prime Minister David Cameron has been trying to block the European Council’s nomination of Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker for the post of European Commission President.

Cameron appears to be incapable of learning from experience: in December 2011, he threatened to block the adoption of the Fiscal Compact, which was then being negotiated by EU member states, if the UK was not granted a series of concessions. And the result of this initiative? Most countries opted to ignore him, and forged ahead with the signature of the treaty outside of the framework of European institutions, treating it as an intergovernmental agreement and thereby avoiding any possibility of a British veto.

Now he is making the same mistake again with an outspoken (that is to say public) attempt to block the nomination of Juncker, whereas he does not have the power to veto the decision, which can be ratified without a unanimous vote by a qualified majority of the Council. This mistake has highlighted yet another error: leaving the European People’s Party to form its own group [in the European Parliament], which has seriously reduced his bargaining power.

As the British press explains, in the wake of several meetings between Cameron and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor has no intention of allowing her arm to be twisted on this issue, because she has consistently said that she would support Juncker if he was the candidate who polled the most votes in European elections.

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Cameron has insinuated that the appointment of Juncker, a federalist loathed by the British Tories, would trigger the UK's exit from the European Union. Is he bluffing? It matters little: if the threat is a serious one, a British exit on the pretext of discord over the presidency cannot be ruled out. But given Britain’s strained presence in the EU, if it does not leave for this reason it may very well leave for another. And European leaders must be wondering if living with the constant threat of further blackmail is worth the trouble. [[What will be the next outlandish demand made by Cameron?]]

Bowing to Cameron’s threat would mean that the European Parliament, which staked what remains of its reputation on attributing the Commission presidency to the candidate who polled the most votes, has effectively committed political suicide. Do you really think that Merkel will agree to humiliate the European Parliament to indulge Britain’s eurosceptics? That would be the last straw.

Although I have no particular sympathy for Cameron, I would like to give him a tip. If you want to torpedo Juncker, there is a simple way to do it: all you have to do is to vote in favour of his appointment to [the Commission presidency] at the European Council, and also in the European Parliament. All the better if you can convince the members of your eurosceptic conservative group — the Poles and the Czechs — to do likewise. At the same time, you spread a rumour to the effect that [in exchange for your support] you have surreptitiously obtained promises to limit the free movement of people, an issue that spooks the British, and on protection for the British financial system, an issue that spooks the rest of Europe.

Can you imagine how the European socialists would react? Under the leadership of their candidate, Martin Schulz, the socialists are willing to strike a power sharing deal with Juncker. In itself, this amounts to political suicide. In the wake of a campaign that was harshly critical of austerity policy, pledging to support Juncker, who was Eurogroup President at key moments during the euro crisis, is a very dangerous move for them.

If, in addition to that, Juncker is also backed by Cameron, it will be very difficult for the socialists to vote for him. This will effectively mean that the former prime minister of Luxembourg will be forced to withdraw his candidacy, and the Council will be obliged to seek another candidate.

[[Many things can happen in the process to appoint the president of the European Commission, but none of them are worse than having the issue decided behind the scenes and behind the backs of the public]]. Juncker should be nominated and he must have his appointment subjected to a vote in the European Parliament, even if he knows he is going to lose. Thereafter, Schulz should do the same: present himself, even if he too is going to lose.

This would amount to something of an ordeal for both politicians, but for the European Parliament and for Europe’s citizens, it would be great to see that — at long last — there is a policy and that politics are at work in Europe. This process should be transparent, and the candidates, those mentioned above and those that follow, should clearly state what they are proposing and what they want in exchange.

What we cannot do is announce a new era of democracy in Europe and at the same time return to our old ways. If the outcome of all this electoral process is a consensus for Juncker with support from the socialists, it will be a disaster. Can you imagine Spanish socialists voting for Juncker, for Merkel’s candidate? If they do, I doubt that socialist voters will ever turn out for another European election.

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