Tuesday

21st Feb 2017

Focus

Merkel takes boat trip with Juncker opponents

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a trip in Sweden listened to British, Swedish and Dutch arguments against appointing Jean-Claude Juncker as the next EU commission chief.

Invited by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, Merkel joined her counterparts from Britain and the Netherlands for a two-day trip complete with a lake boat excursion at Reinfeldt's summer residence in Harpsund, near Stockholm.

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  • Debating the top jobs issue in Sweden (Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann)

The four leaders were set to hold a press conference on Tuesday morning after their talks.

Officially, the Juncker appointment was not on the agenda.

But on his way to the meeting, British PM David Cameron repeated his opposition to the former Luxembourg PM, who was put forward by the centre-right European People's Party ahead of the EU elections and endorsed by Merkel afterwards.

"We should be the ones to choose who should run these institutions, rather than accept some new process that was never agreed," he said.

Nominating top candidates, a novelty which EU political families and the European Parliament came up with in order to increase turnout and make the election of the commission chief more democratic, is not explicitly laid out in the treaty.

Leaders in the European Council should nominate the person for the commission top job, although they must "take into account" the result of elections and "consult" with the Parliament, who then votes on the nomination.

Cameron is not alone in his opposition to the Spitzenkandidat - top candidate - process. Reinfeldt, who is an EPP member, is also against it.

"We do not support the idea because it would make it impossible for any other candidate and rule out a lot of possible potential commission presidents," Reinfeldt told the FT ahead of the meeting.

For her part Merkel has endorsed Juncker as a candidate after her initial reluctance caused a public backlash at home.

But sources in Berlin told this website that the longer the process drags on, the slimmer Juncker's chances become.

"If this level of opposition continues, it will not be sustainable for him to stay on as a candidate," one source said.

Rumours of his possible withdrawal from the race meanwhile have been described as "completely unfounded" by people close to the negotiations.

But behind the scenes, more leaders are testing the ground for alternative candidates. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, after his trip to Sweden, is off to Dublin to meet his Irish counterpart Enda Kenny.

Merkel, meanwhile, seems to have failed to convince International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde to stand for the job, despite meeting her three times in three weeks last month.

"I'm not a candidate and the reason I'm not a candidate is that I have a job," Lagarde said in response to a question at a news conference in London on Friday.

Other possible names include Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organisation, as well as Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

No consolation prize for Schulz

Meanwhile, Martin Schulz, the Spitzenkandidat whose Social Democrat party came in second, may end up empty-handed after the EU vote.

Demands by the German Social Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner, for Schulz to become the next German EU commissioner, have been fiercely rejected by her Christian Democrats.

A meeting on Tuesday evening in Berlin between Merkel and SPD chief Sigmar Gabriel is set to seal Schulz' fate, with Guenther Oettinger tipped to stay on as commissioner, Rheinische Post reports.

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