Monday

18th Mar 2019

Righteousness and a policy programme

  • Merkel and Cameron - both leaders are seeking a solution to the Juncker issue (Photo: gov.uk)

Oh My. It's a terrible thing when both sides are feeling righteous. And righteous in the name of 'democracy' to boot.

On the one hand there is the European Parliament claiming that the people have spoken and 'elected' Jean-Claude Juncker to be the next president of the European Commission.

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On the other side is a thundering British elite and press saying that EU democracy will only be saved by not picking Juncker as commission president.

The truth is, as ever, more nuanced.

The fact is the EU is in a conundrum. EU leaders went along with this nomination process not really thinking it would ever be taken seriously.

That's why the biggest political family, the centre-right EPP, chose Juncker to be their top candidate for the EU vote. He was uncontroversial, known and, they thought, not actually going to end up in the job.

He also, to his surprise, got swept up in the process. And found himself forced to campaign for the post – debates, campaign buses, posters and all.

So the EU finds itself faced with a dilemma.

Should it choose Juncker to give a solid foundation to the Spitzenkandidat race in 2019, or should it ditch him in favour of a fresher face – someone who would better reflect the result of last month's EU vote, which returned a thumbs down on the existing EU establishment.

Meanwhile the question, already difficult, has become thoroughly complicated by Britain's absolute insistence that Juncker is a no-go candidate. London even warned that his nomination would probably prompt an early referendum on the country's EU membership.

British papers have been waging a strong campaign against him to the extent that Juncker – in possibly a first for a former PM from a tiny EU state – made it onto the pages of Britain's formidable tabloid, the Sun. That paper's readership now knows him, in a caricature of hyperbolic writing, as the "most dangerous man in Europe".

But Germany has a formidable tabloid too.

Merkel – in a bid to accommodate London – cut Juncker loose at a summit last week, only to hastily bring him back into the fold after a testy article by the Bild's editor asking her to respect democracy.

In truth there is not much between the two views as far as the citizen is concerned.

EU voters by and large have no idea who Juncker is (although ironically, more surely know him now because of this spat) nor are they likely to know who a putative other candidate, negotiated in secret by EU leaders, is.

A way of restoring this 'situation' – and giving everyone a way out – would be to focus on a commission programme for the coming years.

Juncker should stand up with a thorough policy plan from now until 2019. If he is going to fall by the wayside, it should be because his programme is not good enough.

Not because of a pseudo-battle about 'democracy'.

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