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20th Oct 2018

Juncker: Economics commissioner will be a Socialist

  • The stability pact will not become a flexibility pact, says Juncker (r) (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Future EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday (8 July) promised that the economic affairs commissioner post will go to a Socialist, as part of a grand coalition-type bargain between the centre-right and centre-left.

He made the committment before MEPs from the centre-left S&D group, whose support he needs to secure his appointment as head of the EU executive in a parliament vote next week.

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In his opening speech, he emphasised several issues dear to the Socialists' hearts. He said he favours "equal pay for equal work", a minimum wage across Europe - if not harmonised then at least as a "recommendation" - as well as a eurozone budget and "flexibility" when applying deficit and debt rules.

"The stability pact will not become a flexibility pact, but we will use the flexibility within the pact. And a Socialist will be in charge of this dossier," Juncker said, in reference to the influential economics commissioner. Until now the post was held by Finland's Olli Rehn, a fiscal hawk.

In a later hearing with the Liberals, Juncker paid tribute to Rehn (also a Liberal) for his work "on the rim of the abyss" during the euro crisis.

Many candidates for economics post

France's former finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, is a possibility for the job. So is Juncker's successor at the helm of the Eurogroup, Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Both are Socialists, but an EU source told this website that about a dozen other countries have sent in names for the post, of which about two-thirds are Socialists.

Juncker also made a commitment to have a "fundamental rights" commissioner and pledged more solidarity with southern countries which have to cope with irregular migration.

"Problems with illegal migration are not just national problems, they are a problem for the EU as a whole. We need more north-south solidarity," Juncker said, noting that the budget for the EU border agency, Frontex - €80 million a year - is "ridiculous".

He said he was the "first candidate" to have promised Britain a "fair deal" about its membership in the EU, but also noted that this doesn't mean all British demands will be accomodated.

Schulz moment

An impromptu speech by Juncker's main rival for the job ahead of the EU elections, Martin Schulz, who was just re-elected European Parliament president, gave a flavour of the Socialist demands in return for a Yes vote next week.

"You are not president of the EU commission yet. You are applying for a mandate to form this commission. Our colleague said you are the council's man. From now on, you are the Parliament's man," he said in German and using the informal address ("du").

Schulz said he supports Juncker because he wants to see the new system put in place by which EU parties' top candidates (Spitzenkandidaten) become commission presidents.

"I want one day that post to be filled by a Social Democrat. That's why it's about imposing this principle. I want you to get a broad majority in the Parliament on Tuesday," he said.

Meanwhile, the secretary general of the parliament, Klaus Welle, at a public event in Brussels said that the link between the EU parliament and the commission "will be different than in the past."

“We don’t know exactly how but one thing is for sure: we can expect much, much closer co-operation between the commission president and the parliamentary majority, which brought him into office," Welle said.

A fundamental change

“That relation has fundamentally changed and it is clear this relationship will not just be a technical relationship but a political relationship. It is absolutely possible that there will be a political project which unites the parliamentary majority carrying the European Commission and the President of the European Commission," he added.

A novelty in the EU treaty involves the European Parliament in approving the European Commission's five-year work programme. EU leaders at a summit last week also laid out their own expectations and priorities for the coming years.

Juncker will have to have to table the programme ahead of the 15 July vote.

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