Merkel endorses Juncker after all
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday (30 May) gave her first clear endorsement of Jean-Claude Juncker to become the next president of the EU commission, after criticism back home about EU leaders ignoring the democratic process.
Speaking at a Catholics' gathering in Regensburg, Merkel said that the centre-right European People's Party and its top candidate (Spitzenkandidat) Juncker came in first after last week's EU elections.
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"That is why I am now conducting all of my talks in the spirit that Jean-Claude Juncker should become
president of the European Commission," Merkel said.
She said it was her "credo" to find a joint solution that doesn't "alienate people".
"That doesn’t mean giving up your position, just that you take a deep breath and ask one more time what the others want and what reservations there are. Europe is very laborious," Merkel added.
This is the first time she has given such strong backing for Juncker. After an EU summit on Tuesday where leaders decided not to explicitly endorse the former Luxembourg leader, she there are "others" who could do the job just as well. She added there would be lengthy negotiations with member states and the European Parliament, which also need to take into consideration the other top posts.
Juncker was opposed even within the EPP party by the leaders of Sweden and Hungary, as well as outside the EPP group by Britain's David Cameron and the Netherland's Mark Rutte.
But a backlash from members of her own coalition triggered Merkel's u-turn.
Elmar Brok, a leading MEP from her own Christian-Democratic Union, told Sueddeutsche Zeitung that EU leaders should "be aware of the fact that the European Parliament will insist on imposing the will of the voters".
Merkel's coalition partner Sigmar Gabriel, head of the Social Democrats, said in an interview with Tagesspiegel that Europe is in such a "difficult situation" that it needs both Spitzenkandidaten - Juncker and Martin Schulz, top candidate of the Social-Democrats.
Gabriel was making reference to the success of far-right and anti-EU parties in the EU vote, a fact that is likely to push the centre-right EPP and the Social-Democrats to work closely together.
Gabriel said Schulz should be part of the next EU commission, indicating that the German MEP may get a prominent post if Juncker becomes commission chief.
In addition, the mass-selling tabloid Bild Zeitung on Friday ran an editorial by its publisher with the title "Juncker must become president".
"One thing is clear: Europeans want Juncker to become EU president. Schulz has the second-best result. A third person, someone who didn't stand for election, should not get the job. Otherwise democracy turns into a farce. Maybe that was possible in the [east German] DDR or in right-wing nationalist banana republics. But not in the EU," wrote Matthias Doepfner, the CEO of Axel Springer publishing house to which Bild belongs.
For Juncker to become commission president, he needs a 'qualified majority' of member states, with bigger countries having a greater say. The UK alone, even if backed by Sweden, the Netherlands and Hungary, would not have enough votes to block the move.
So far, Merkel has sought to find compromises which don't alienate London.