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20th Jan 2017

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Merkel seeks to square the circle on Juncker and UK

  • Angela Merkel does not want to isolate Britain over Juncker (Photo: Bundesregierung)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday (4 June) told the Bundestag she is trying to get enough leaders to back Jean-Claude Juncker for the EU commission presidency, but warned against isolating Britain.

"I am putting all my efforts - and so does the whole German government - to secure the appointment of Juncker as next commission president with a qualified majority in the council, as required by the EU treaty," she said.

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But she was critical of those who take Britain's opposition to Juncker too lightly.

British PM David Cameron at a summit last week warned that if Juncker was appointed, it would increase the chances of Britain saying no in an EU membership referendum.

"We know Britain's reservations. I don't share them, but it is coarse and negligent to say it doesn't matter if Britain approves or not, if Britain stays or leaves the EU. It is everything but indifferent," Merkel said.

She admitted Britain is "no easy partner", but said that Germany wants and needs Britain to be its partner in the EU, because they share the goal of making Europe more competitive.

"So I am talking to the UK in a European spirit, trying to find the best results possible for everyone. It is laborious and tiring, but thoroughness comes before speed," she said.

The chancellor also talked alot about what the EU's policy priorities should be. She highlighted jobs, growth, continued fiscal discipline, reducing energy dependency, switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy, rule of law and free trade.

Restructuring the commission

Meanwhile, thoughts are being formulated in Berlin on having the next EU commission reorganised in a way to reflect these priorities and give more weight to "cluster commissioners" seconded by junior commissioners, rather than spreading everything over 28 portfolios.

To prevent countries protesting that they are left with a junior post, one idea is to have a rotation system or to make clusters flexible, so that each country gets to have an important post at a certain point.

Berlin also wants to see the EU foreign foreign policy chief more integrated into the workings of the EU commission, since most of the money that can go to neighbourhood countries or development aid is in the commission, not in the EU diplomatic service.

Merkel's coalition partner, the Social Democrats, are pushing for Martin Schulz to become Germany's next EU commissioner in a senior post - perhaps even the double-hatted high representative for foreign policy, who is also vice-president of the EU commission.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife about France's plans.

On the one hand former finance minister Pierre Moscovici is gearing up for a top economics post in the EU commission.

On the other, Merkel has reportedly approached International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde for the EU commission top post in case Juncker does not get it.

But according to French media, French President Francois Hollade would rather have Juncker than Lagarde, who is not from his own political family.

Other possible commissioners are outgoing Belgian PM Elio di Rupo, Finland's Jyrki Katainen and Latvia's ex-PM Valdis Dombrovskis.

The European Parliament will hold hearings with all the commissioner candidates once the commission chief is appointed and then vote on the entire commission later this year.

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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