Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s candidacy to head the European Commission has been boosted by signs of support from French President Francois Hollande and German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.
Hollande and Gabriel met in Paris, along with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Belgian Premier Elio di Rupo and five other heads of governments from European Union countries to stake out a common socialist position before all EU leaders gather in Ypres June 26. The summit is being held in the Belgian town as part of World War I centenary commemorations.
The endorsement of Juncker to run the EU’s executive arm next year sets up a clash with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who is refusing to drop his opposition to appointing the Luxembourg politician, a British government official said on June 20. Parties backing center-right Juncker won the most seats in elections to the European Parliament last month.
“We said, let’s respect the spirit of the European elections, which is to say that the party that came in first should propose the candidate that was presented -- in this case Mr. Juncker,” Hollande said yesterday in Paris, adding that the group would like socialist candidates to be considered for other commission jobs.
The British premier has said repeatedly it’s impossible to discuss the future of the EU without discussing names and will insist on asking those leaders who back Juncker to explain why, the U.K. official said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose governing coalition includes Gabriel’s Social Democratic Party, also backs Juncker.
“We agreed also that the Social Democrats accept that the European People’s Party won the European election, and that Jean-Claude Juncker should become president of the European Commission,” Gabriel said.
Juncker has said he should get the job on the basis that he’s the candidate of the EPP.
Cameron risks becoming isolated on the question of who leads the commission, the EU’s executive arm that oversees the bloc’s single market. While the leader of the U.K. Conservative Party, or Tories, has the backing of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, most other leaders have publicly voiced their support for Juncker.
“I believe that Great Britain has made clear where it stands and I don’t think that this standpoint will change,” Merkel said at a joint press briefing in Berlin June 20 with Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas, another Juncker backer.
In 2009, a year before becoming prime minister, Cameron pulled the Conservatives out of the EPP, which includes Merkel’s Christian Democrats, and helped create a voting bloc, known as the European Conservatives and Reformists, to show his determination to curtail the powers of the EU.
“It’s unfortunate that Britain doesn’t have a representation in Europe’s ruling party,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told BBC Television’s Andrew Marr today. “If the Tories were part of the European People’s Party, he could have made that argument, and he may well have prevailed. But the EPP made its choice, won the election.”
Cameron may insist that the heads of government vote when they come to decide formally on Juncker in Brussels on June 27, according to the British official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record and asked not to be identified.
Following his party’s defeat at the hands of the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party in last month’s European elections, Cameron has repeatedly questioned whether Juncker, who served 18 years as prime minister of Luxembourg and led meetings of euro-region finance ministers during the debt crisis, is “capable of taking the EU forward.” Cameron has promised to fight the appointment “to the end.”
Alternatives to Juncker will be discussed at the summit, according to Roivas of Estonia, though “we really do believe he is able to deliver a reform agenda,” he said.
“We definitely won’t get a unanimous vote on this point,” said Merkel. “But naturally we want to work in a European-minded spirit, which means that we will listen to the voice of Great Britain, especially on program matters, on the commission’s work program.”
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