Wednesday

30th Nov 2022

EUobserved

Juncker too tight in his EU suit

  • (Photo: European Commission)

Relaxed, humorous, sometimes scathing, and in the end stopping short of laying out a clear vision of what his function should be. Jean-Claude Juncker, the self-described head of a "political" European Commission, delivered a press conference on Wednesday that could serve as an illustration of his entire mandate.

He was speaking a year ahead of the next European elections, and about a week before EU leaders meet to discuss how his successor will be chosen and how EU policies will be designed and funded.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"A Europe that delivers: Commission presents ideas for a more efficient European Union,"the commission said in a press release about Juncker's presentation, in its often used ready-made language.

Juncker was more lively during his 45 minutes on the podium, even asking for more questions when his chief spokesman wanted to put an end to the exercise.

But he balanced between the aim of becoming a modern EU 'founding father' and being a day-to-day politician looking at the state of the power play around the EU table.

He said he was "not an anonymous bureaucrat or a putschist who would have forced the doors of the Berlaymont," but a politician with a "triple legitimacy" - from the voters, the EU leaders and the European Parliament.

As such, and as a seasoned EU politician who attended his first EU meeting in the 80s, Juncker, in small strokes, has been describing in recent months what a European Commission president should be in the long run.

He said on Wednesday that his "dream" was that "within the foreseeable future we will be able to ensure that we have a bicameral system", formed by the parliament and the member states in the Council of the EU.

In that ideal construction, Juncker added, the presidents of the council and the commission would be "elected by direct vote".

'Asking too much of member states'

But instead of elaborating, and maybe proposing ideas to go towards this "dream", Juncker cut it short: "Of course that is not the topic that we are here to discuss today."

He said, once again, that he wanted his successor to be picked through the so-called 'Spitzenkandidat' process, with public debates in all 27 member states.

Building on his own self-reflected profile, he noted that "former prime ministers, if they have been prime ministers for long enough fulfil all the necessary requirements." But he added that "of course that doesn't mean there is just one profile."

He said again that it would "make sense" to merge the positions of commission and European Council presidents, but he admitted that "it cannot be done before 2019".

He raised the question of the number of commissioners, leaving "a lot of food for thoughts" but not providing answers, "because it's up to the head of governments and states."

He expressed sympathy for the idea of transnational lists for the European elections, but noted that that they were "unlikely this time round".

He insisted that it was "urgent" to take decision on the EU budget for after 2020, but let his commissioner, Guenther Oettinger,lay out the commission's vision of how it should look.

"We'd be asking too much from member states," the EU executive chief said at one point of his press conference - a statement that could apply to many issues and suggested a frustration in his job.

Leaving a footprint

Juncker, who at 63 is entering the last phase of his political and European career, would like to leave a footprint on the EU when he leaves.

That is why, last year, he published five scenarios for the future of the EU and suggested the 'road to Sibiu' process - a series of EU leader meetings, culminating in the Romanian city just before the 2019 elections to take decisions.

That's also why he came to the commission's press room for the first time in two years - if we put aside press points with EU leaders.

But instead of delivering an articulate vision of what the commission and its head could be in the future, he floated ideas and convictions that he himself said were not going to fly.

Maybe that is why he snapped at an Italian journalist, saying people talked nicely to him in Italy because they don't read the journalist's newspaper. Or why he told a French journalist that he wrote too often and was "plotting" against him, or why he told a Swiss journalist that the Swiss media conveys "an image of [him] that has no bearing with reality".

Juncker sounded like a politician who has a faith but who feels too tight in the suit that EU leaders have tailored for him - the suit of an institution head with limited powers.

Commission tells Macron to pick political side

A European Commission paper calls on parties to show their colours before the May 2019 parliament elections, and to choose their successor to Juncker before the end of 2018.

Juncker calls for united EU under one leader

The Commission president wants his position to be merged with the presidency of the European Council, and for all EU states to be in the eurozone and Schengen by 2019, post-Brexit.

Interview

Selmayr case symptomatic, says EU novel author

The controversy over the new EU Commission top civil servant is revealing of what is wrong with EU institutions and how they are blocked by national governments, says award-winning Austrian novelist Robert Menasse.

Catalan spyware victims demand justice

Victims of the widening spyware scandal in Spain are demanding justice and reparations, following the revelations that journalists, lawyers, civil society and politicians had been targeted.

Investigation

EU lawmakers under pressure to act on 90,000 asbestos deaths

The EU Commission has watered-down a broad political initiative —but now governments of member states hold the key to what the EU should do. Some member states and regions have adopted asbestos strategies of some kind, from Poland to Flanders.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us