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16th Jan 2019

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Juncker elected centre-right's top EU candidate

  • "I am a rare product," says Juncker (Photo: EPP)

The centre-right European People's Party on Friday (7 March) chose Jean-Claude Juncker, an EU political veteran and former head of the Eurogroup, as its top candidate for the European Commission.

"Experience. Solidarity. Future". This is the slogan the EPP wants to attract voters with in the upcoming EU elections, with Juncker's face as top candidate for all affiliated parties. It doesn't mean Juncker will actually run for seat in the European Parliament.

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  • U2 singer Bono was the main attraction at the EPP congress (Photo: Valentina Pop)

Nor does it mean that he will automatically get the EU commission top job if the EPP wins most seats in the EU assembly in the May vote.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has underlined that there is no "automaticity" in the process. The EU treaty simply says the result of the European Parliament elections should be "taken into account" when EU leaders select the commission chief.

Juncker, who will turn 60 this year and was a contemporary of former commission president Jacques Delors and former German chancellor Helmut Kohl - major figures in the 1980s and 90s - dismissed questions about the need for a "fresher face" in EU politics.

"Was that a serious question or a joke?" he replied in a press conference.

But signs of his tiredness were visible already during his acceptance speech. He got the name of EU commission chief Barroso wrong, calling him Jose Maria instead of Jose Manuel.

"You know I always do that," he quipped.

When asked what he would do if leaders decide to appoint someone else as commission chief even if the EPP wins the elections, Juncker said: "I will be very angry."

He then joked: "I am not at all offended of being considered both for the EU commission and the EU council. I am a rare product."

An EPP source told this website that Juncker is a "no-go" for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who may seek other allies to block him if Juncker were the candidate. The heads of the EU commission and the EU council have to be approved by a qualified majority in the EU council, where bigger states have more votes than smaller ones.

But Juncker is not alone on the British blacklist, so is his Social-Democrat rival, Martin Schulz, currently head of the European Parliament. The only names Cameron would be comfortable with are Denmark's Prime Minister Helle-Thorning Schmidt and Irish PM Enda Kenny.

Schmidt is a Social-Democrat and a woman - which puts her in pole position for a top job - either as EU council president or commission chief. Kenny is EPP, which means he would be selected at the helm of the other institution - according to the British reasoning.

Bono

The highlight of the last day of the EPP congress was much less the election of Juncker than the appearance of U2 lead singer Bono, who also acts as an Irish anti-poverty campaigner.

He said "Irish people were screwed over" by the banks and "bailed out themselves". He praised the centre-right leaders, but also mentioned the Social-Democrat personalia: France's Hollande, Denmark's Thorning-Schmidt, Schulz.

"Europe is a thought, but it has to become a feeling. Treaties are good rulebooks, but they are not enough, we need to care more about each other," he said while looking at Merkel, who was on the same stage, smiling.

Merkel's insistence on treaty changes and on austerity measures have made her a disliked figure in many southern European countries.

EPP manifesto

The EPP congress also adopted a four-page manifesto for the EU elections. It calls for less EU regulation: "We do not want a centralised Europe that deals with every detail of people's lives. We want Europe to be bigger on big things and smaller on small things."

They are pro-freedom of movement, with caveats on social benefits: "We are against social fraud - social benefits for EU citizens should only be available if they have worked in the country they live."

The EPP also wants tighter border security and calls the fight against organised crime, money laundering and corruption as a "top priority for us."

The manifesto also mentions data protection as a "human right", calling for stricter rules to safeguard the privacy of citizens and "increase consumer trust online."

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