Sunday

11th Dec 2016

EUobserved

Having 'sympathy' with Juncker

  • Merkel might have 'great sympathy' for Juncker, but said 'it’s not only for me to decide' (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The trials of tribulations of being (maybe) in the running to be the next commission President. After a deafening silence Berlin finally spoke. Or, let it be known (which was almost, but crucially, not quite, the same) that it could support Jean-Claude Juncker to be its top candidate ahead of the May EU elections.

It was a hardly a ringing endorsement for the former Luxembourg PM. And no sooner had the half-hearted sentiment not been said then even that was retracted.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel might have “great sympathy” for Juncker but “it’s not only for me to decide” she said. Except when it is, of course. But this time, conveniently, it isn’t.

Merkel has made it clear she holds no truck with the idea that citizens might actually directly elect the next commission president.

That would a) limit the room for manuoeuvre for selecting people for other posts and b) potentially confer more democratic legitimacy to the EU commission President than national leaders.

This would be somewhat inconvenient.

Still, that little non-exchange about Juncker's possible EU-job future illustrates a perfect Merkel-ism. Appearing to agree without actually changing her mind. She has not abandoned her hostility to the expansive version of the EU treaty (under which the lead candidate of the most popular party automatically becomes the next commission president).

This leaves plenty of wiggle room to drop the Luxembourger (or anyone else for that matter) as soon as expediently possible.

(Thus also avoiding potential questions on why Juncker, who did so much to hinder financial transparency in the past, should continue to be a part of the EU’s future.)

And what of the other jobs?

Well, who could possibly fail to notice Carl Bildt lately?

Galivanting around

The Swedish foreign minister is opining all over the place. Name a country and he has something to say. Or if there isn’t a microphone around, 140 characters will do too.

He was the first of his peers to mention sanctions on Ukraine. And one of the first to make such a sympathetic overture to Iran. He then hotfooted it to that very country. Where a single ill-considered picture risked drowning out his thousand words.

Snapping at his heels - but saying (a bit) less - is his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski. He also intends to grace Iran with his presence in the coming weeks. Presumably saying much of the same sort of stuff, but differently.

It’s all rather good for the post-Ashton CV, should one find oneself thrust into the job fray come summer.

Communicating the unpleasant

The art of communicating unpleasantness is to do it in a drip by drip manner.

So, last August, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble mentioned a third bailout package would be needed for Greece. Questions about the size and shape of the thing were batted away as the country went into elections and then coalition negotiations.

Earlier this week, when people had largely forgotten they wanted to be annoyed by a third bailout, it was suddenly revealed that it would be in the order of €10-20 billion.

Berlin appears to be using the same tactic with treaty change, which it has been advocating for over a year.

Soon, Germany - hitherto rather vague on the details except that it should be a “quantum leap” - will feel emboldened enough to say what needs to be changed; when it should happen and how.

Unfortunately though, for Cameron (whose party also wants a quantum leap, but in the other direction), no one is yet seeing the need to make it fit his domestic timetable.

And the domestic pressure on him is rising. Thanks, in no small part, to Geert Wilders for whom a commissioned report found that if the Netherlands left the EU, Dutch GDP would increase by 10-13 percent by 2035.

In fact, the political, legal and economic consequences of leaving the EU are so benign, according to this report, that it's a wonder all member states haven't already rushed out the door.

A little less preaching, a little more doing

The European Parliament suffers from an institutional inferiority complex.

It is powerful, but unloved by the electorate. And governments try to circumvent it. What could one reasonably do to alter this situation? Undertake reforms that might make you more appreciated perhaps? Practice what you preach?

Or might you make fatuous speeches indicating that shrill debates in the EU assembly will lead Europe to war while your political group - along with your centre-right pals - torpedo a reform that would shine a clear light on how MEPs make laws.

A report on something that matters.

MEPs wouldn't do that now would they?

One only has to look at the rigorous code of conduct deputies agreed for themselves and the unflagging efforts to bolster the lobbyist register to be reassured.

EU asylum return focus expands police scrutiny

EU interior ministers agreed to start legislative talks with the EU parliament to expand the scope of an asylum database, Eurodac, to include migrants and stateless people.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The Brexit picture starts to emerge

The week in Westminster and Brussels highlight the difficulty Theresa May faces in trying to keep control of the Brexit timetable.

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