22nd Oct 2016


Institutional fisticuffs

  • Juncker - suddenly unloved (Photo:

Well that did not take long, did it? MEPs spent months and months carefully constructing a house of cards. Extrapolating treaty text. Reading between the lines. Acting in the spirit, rather than the letter.

And along came EU leaders and blew the whole thing down with one dismissive puff.

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They "took note" of what the EU parliament said about letting Jean-Claude Juncker start trying to put together majority support to get the post of European Commission president.

Then, after having taken note, they proceeded to ignore it.

It was the first shot in what is likely to be a furious power struggle, as the European Council fights to keep its prerogative to chose who gets what post.

While Council President Herman Van Rompuy was his usual mild self, merely tweeting that his institution has a "role to play", German Chancellor Angela Merkel was implacable.

She all but accused MEPs of blackmail, reminded them that when the treaty was breached the last time (when many, including Germany, ignored the rules underpinning the euro), the EU was brought to the brink of economic catastrophe.

It was a hefty comparison.

The European Parliament is clearly trying to increase its powers by insisting that one of the 'Spitzenkandidaten' – who campaigned ahead of the vote – becomes the next commission president. While it won't solve the EU's democracy problems, it wouldn't sink the EU ship either.

As Merkel defended the letter of the treaty, Juncker became the very public collateral damage.

Sure, the EPP had nominated him but "this whole agenda [for the European Commission] can be implemented by him, but also by many others," said the Chancellor.

Apart from that resounding put-down – no one wants to be told they are infinitely replaceable – the evening was largely predictable.

Van Rompuy said there would be no names and only a discussion about "process" in his little pre-dinner invitation letter.

So the 'Spitzenkandidat' experiment is not necessarily over.

Van Rompuy will discuss with political group leaders about who can get a majority and with what sort of programme. Other posts will also be part of the talks. They will try and arrive at names and a commission programme by the next summit at the end of June.

There are many issues to consider but two are most important:

If the 'Spitzenkandidaten' process fails – and that may just as well be at the hands of the EP as by the European Council – then it means that the whole experiment has been a lie.

Yes, the parliament constructed the lie. And yes, not many voters were aware of it. But leaders went along with it (albeit half-heartedly – and the half-heartedness is why Juncker was chosen). And even Merkel, on the eve of the election, encouraged the process.

Ultimately it was an attempt to bring personalities (whether they were the right ones is debatable) into an EU that is considered to be a technocratic giant.

It will be hard to repeat this and do it better in 2019 if it withers away now.

The second more important point is that a lengthy nomination process will be a distraction from the bigger issue.

And that is that a large swathe of voters – both on the left and on the right – are calling for some sort of change.

Nothing will say more about the remoteness of the EU than if for several months after this election, it indulges in bickering rather than coming up with a response to show it is listening to that majority constituency which either thinks change is needed or that the EU is simply not worth going to the urns for.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

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