Sunday

20th Jan 2019

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join 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.

EUobserved

At the court of the EU bubble kings

The elevation of Martin Selmayr to the position of secretary general highlights how far the EU Commission has gone in disconnecting itself from what it is supposed to represent: the general interest.

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.

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us