Monday

24th Sep 2018

Juncker breaks tradition with support for Macron

European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said on Monday (24 April) that the commission is not interfering in the French presidential campaign, despite Jean-Claude Juncker's public endorsement of Emmanuel Macron.

On Sunday, Schinas tweeted that Juncker had “congratulated” Macron with his success at the first round of France's presidential election, and “wished him good luck” for the second round.

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  • Macron (r) last month met German chancellor Merkel, who also congratulated him with moving on to the second round (Photo: Emmanuel Macron/Twitter)

The pro-EU Macron received 23.75 percent of the votes, and will now go head-to-head with anti-EU candidate Marine Le Pen, who got 21.53 percent.

Juncker's congratulatory remarks were unprecedented, and raised questions during Monday's daily EU press conference.

Why did Juncker support a candidate in a member state election when the electoral process is not yet over? Normally, the commission does not provide comments on ongoing elections.

Schinas said that France is “one of the countries which incarnates and symbolises those values on which European integration is based”, and that Juncker congratulated Macron because “he is the candidate who represents those values”.

But that is not what Schinas said last year when the European Commission was asked to comment on the Austrian presidential election, which also take place over two rounds.

There are striking similarities between the two elections – although the Austrian president has a mostly ceremonial function, the French presidency is one of the most powerful posts in Europe.

Just like in France, the first round in Austria wiped out the candidates of the two traditional centre-left and centre-right parties, and prepared the country for a choice between a pro-EU independent candidate, Alexander Van der Bellen, and an anti-EU far right candidate, Norbert Hofer.

However, on the day after the first round of the Austrian election, Schinas stuck to the traditional commission line of not commenting before the final vote.

“We have no comment,” Schinas said on 25 April 2016 in reference to Austria.

On Monday, however, Schinas said “the stakes were high, the stakes were known, the choice was a fundamental one”.

“Really the choice was between defending what Europe represents and another option which aims to destroy Europe,” he said. “So it's a simple choice and our president therefore thought it would be worthwhile congratulating the candidate who defended the pro-European option.”

“There were not many choices. The choice was rather simple, straightforward. Those who defended what Europe stands for, and those who simply want to destroy Europe,” said the spokesman, despite the fact that French voters could choose between 11 candidates, including several other pro-EU candidates.

When challenged on his comments that there were not “many choices”, Schinas answered: “Many candidates, one choice.”

But when taking the narrow pro- or anti-EU view, the results are not as clear a victory for the EU as is currently being framed.

In addition to Le Pen's second place, a sizeable part of the voters supported radical left eurosceptic candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon.

In fact, anti-EU or eurosceptic candidates - sovereignist Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, the self-proclaimed "Frexit" candidate Francois Asselineau, and Trotskyists Nathalie Artaud and Philippe Poutou - receiving 48.5 percent of the votes.

Schinas was also asked if Juncker would now give his support to a pro-EU party in June's general elections in the United Kingdom.

“No, he will not,” said Schinas. “This is not for us, this is not for Brussels, this is not for the commission, this is not for anyone but the sovereign British people.”

One other argument that Schinas gave was that Juncker was not the only politician to speak out.

“I'm sure that if the president would have not congratulated yesterday's winner, today the discussion in this press room would have been: why you are the only ones not to congratulate when everybody else did,” said Schinas.

But, for example, German chancellor Angela Merkel wished Macron “all the best” through her spokesman, only after Juncker's statement was made public.

Analysis

French election run-off: Far right vs. EU

The run-off of the French presidential election will pit a pro-EU social-liberal Macron against anti-EU Marine Le Pen. Macron is likely to win but far-right support is higher than ever.

Voters 'change face' of French politics

Newcomer Macron and far-right leader Le Pen qualified for the presidential election run-off in a vote that pushed aside the two main traditional parties.

France still anxious over possibility of Le Pen win

Despite opinion polls that place centrist Macron well ahead of the far-right leader Le Pen in the 7 May presidential run-off, doubts are emerging about his capacity to unite the French people around his candidacy.

Overseas votes could swing Sweden election result

Sweden heads for a hung parliament after Sunday's election, which saw support for the nationalist Sweden Democrats surge. With just 30,000 votes between the two blocs, votes cast abroad to be counted on Wednesday could still make the difference.

Swedes warned of EU collapse ahead of vote

The EU would "collapse" if parties like the far-right Sweden Democrats took power across Europe, Sweden's former leader, Carl Bildt, said in a TV duel six days ahead of elections.

Burned cars fuel Swedish election debate

Sweden's first big party leader TV debate ahead of September elections was marked by the burning of dozen of cars in cities across the south-west of the country.

Opinion

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

EUobserved

How radical is Italy's Savona really?

Italy is in a political crisis because president Sergio Mattarella has rejected Paolo Savona as a cabinet member, for his views on the EU.

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