Wednesday

1st Jun 2016

Focus

EU leaders to vote Juncker as commission chief

  • The vote on EU top jobs breaks with the tradition of back-room package deals (Photo: crosby_cj)

EU leaders are likely to put Jean-Claude Juncker at the helm of the next European Commission at this week’s summit despite British opposition.

But they are not expected to assign the other top jobs in a traditional package deal until later in July.

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British PM David Cameron has demanded an EU Council vote on Juncker in a bid to block the former Luxembourg PM, whom he considers too federalist and too old-fashioned to reform the EU along UK lines.

The unprecedented show of hands will take place at a lunch in Brussels on Friday (27 June).

Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden - who had also expressed reservations on Juncker - have indicated they will back him. Their defection leaves Hungarian PM Viktor Orban as Cameron’s only ally. But even if they both vote against Juncker it will not be enough to stop his appointment, while diplomats say Orban might abstain.

According to one EU source, Britain is likely to "retaliate" by refusing to sign the Council “conclusions,” which would be downgraded to a “declaration” by EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy.

Leaders will gossip on who should be the next EU foreign relations chief and EU Council head when Catherine Ashton and Van Rompuy step down in November. They might also discuss appointing a permanent Eurogroup chief - a post eyed by Spanish finance minister Luis de Guindos.

But the dispute on Juncker means there will be no final decisions this week.

A senior EU official told press on Wednesday: “Van Rompuy had extensive consultations with the leaders and the European Parliament, the intention is to get a decision on the European Commission president on Friday, while other top jobs will be decided upon later”.

"A package deal would have been a possibility if there was a chance for a consensus agreement. But if a country asks for a vote, there will be a vote," an EU diplomat said.

Diplomats noted that a second summit may be organised in mid-July to decide on the remaining top posts.

The timeline arises from EU procedure: If Juncker is the next commission chief, he must be consulted on the EU top diplomat job because the top diplomat is also a commission vice-president.

But Juncker will not formally become president until he is backed by a majority of MEPs in a vote scheduled for 16 July.

Commenting on developments, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Bundestag on Wednesday the first-ever Council vote is “no drama”.

Juncker said in Berlin on Tuesday he will get the job by the end of the week "if common sense prevails". He added, in a dig at Cameron, that common sense is "very unequally distributed, so one will have to wait”.

The summit will start on Thursday in south-west Belgium at a World War I commemoration ceremony.

Leaders are supposed to discuss EU priorities for the coming years at a dinner in Ypres on Thursday. But Van Rompuy will have his work cut out for him to stop it turning into an early showdown on Juncker.

“If leaders want to talk to press [about top jobs] on their way in, they can, we are not in Belarus here," a senior EU diplomat joked.

"Solemn commitment”

Juncker aside, the other main event will be the signature of “deep” free trade treaties with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine in Brussels on Friday.

The outgoing commission chief, Jose Manuel Barroso, said on Wednesday the pacts represent a “solemn commitment” by the EU to help the three countries in future.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will brief leaders on the situation in east Ukraine on Friday morning. Leaders will also discuss EU-Russia relations at the Juncker vote lunch.

Russia believes the EU-Ukraine deal harms its strategic interests and has gone a long way to disrupt it.

This week, the Russian leader cancelled a legal mandate to invade Ukraine to protect Russian speakers. Critics say it is a ruse to avoid more EU sanctions, but there is no appetite and no consensus on further sanctions in the Council anyway.

"If leaders start talking about sanctions [against Russia], it may be a long Friday," an EU diplomat said.

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