Sunday

29th May 2016

Focus

Juncker opponents: Focus on reforms, not names

  • Merkel reiterated her support for Juncker at the Sweden meeting (Photo: Swedish government)

Failing to agree on Jean-Claude Juncker as next EU commission president, the leaders of Germany, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands on Tuesday (10 June) said it was important to focus on EU reforms rather than names.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated that she supported Juncker, the former Eurogroup chief, taking up the commission post.

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"I've said it in Germany and I say it here: I am in favour of Juncker, but we need to act in a European spirit."

She noted that the European Parliament has increased powers, but said that the EU treaties are clear on how the appointment is made.

The EU Parliament has said EU leaders must nominate one of the so-called Spitzenkandidaten – the top candidates of EU political parties in the May elections – for the commission post.

Merkel also let it be known that she did not like it when countries make political threats, with British leader David Cameron at a recent summit reportedly saying that a Juncker appointment would increase the UK's chances of leaving the EU.

"But when I made that statement in Germany (about supporting Juncker) I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that because otherwise you would never reach a compromise," said the chancellor.

"Thus we cannot just consign to the backburner the question of the European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that," she added.

Cameron and the other two leaders at the Sweden meeting did not speak out in favour of Juncker and questioned the legitimacy of the process.

"Obviously there were no Spitzenkandidaten in Britain, there was no legitimacy for them. It is up to the European Council to propose a candidate for the EU commission," said the British PM.

He said it was important to focus on the reforms Europe needs to come up with in response to the eurosceptic vote on 25 May.

"So we focused on policies, not names. But of course we need persons who can carry out those reforms," Cameron said, when asked if Juncker was the man for the job.

A similar message came from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

"Content comes first, decisions on persons second. We need to work to get this reform agenda, then we can decide who is best for the European Commission, the Council, the Parliament will also choose its president – there are at least three top jobs to decide on."

On reforms, the four leaders agreed it was important to focus on deepening the internal market, signing more free trade agreements with overseas countries, and ensuring that freedom of movement does not lead to welfare abuse.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who invited the other leaders for a two-day retreat at his summer residence in Harpsund, also said the priority must be reforms.

Reinfeldt, who stands for reelection in Sweden in September but who may also be one of the names considered for an EU top job, has from early on signalled opposition to Spitzenkandidaten because it would "rule out a lot of possible potential commission presidents".

Asked about any advice to Reinfeldt for the upcoming elections, Merkel said he should "just be himself" and said she enjoyed the boat tour they had with him on a nearby lake.

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