15th Oct 2019

Juncker declares interest in EU president job

  • Jean-Claude Juncker declares his interest in the post (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Luxembourg leader Jean-Claude Juncker has said he would be willing to be the first president of the European Council, an as-of-yet non-existent post with a hazy job description.

The leader of the Grand Duchy, the smallest EU state bar Malta, told French paper Le Monde that he would do the job if asked.

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"I have learned that you must never declare yourself a candidate for such a post. You must let others ask you to take it. If I received such a call, I would have no reason to refuse to hear it."

His comments are the first official declaration of interest in the post, which will be created by the Lisbon Treaty, a new set of rules that leaders hope to get in place early next year.

To date most of the speculation has centred on British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, and, to a lesser extent, on other names such as Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende.

The Luxembourg challenge will focus attention once more on exactly what member states expect from the job - either a powerful position that will give Europe a prominent face on the international stage, or a more administrative role. The loose wording in the treaty means it could go either way.

Mr Juncker, who had a public spat with Mr Blair in 2005 over the future financing of the EU, has made no secret that he does not want the former British prime minister to get the job, as recently as last week saying he would "do everything" to make sure a "certain person" did not get the post.

In the Le Monde interview he restricted himself to more general opposition to a Briton becoming EU president.

"I can't really identify any area in which Britain has shown real European inspiration over the past 10 years, apart from a few advances on defence," he said.

He said the person who holds the job should be "someone whose main concern is to serve Europe and to unify it around a virtuous consensus, and who would not pretend to represent it abroad without having ensured its internal unity."

Mr Juncker, the longest serving leader in the EU, is known for his wit, chain-smoking and strong federalist ideas. A fluent French, German and English speaker he in the past has made much of being a middleman between Paris and Berlin, which has allowed him and his country to punch above its weight on the EU stage.

His popularity in both capitals has waned recently, however. French President Nicolas Sarkozy criticised him for not being active enough in his capacity as chairman of the eurozone during the financial crisis and he fell out with both Paris and Berlin over their push to highlight Luxembourg as a mischievous tax haven.

While Mr Juncker articulates the fear many small and medium member states have about an over-arching EU president who would only answer to larger countries, the decision about whose name ultimately emerges will likely depend on Berlin and Paris.

The French president has backed away from his previously strong support of Mr Blair for the post while German chancellor Angela Merkel, while not ruling out Mr Blair, has not actively spoken out in favour of the British politician.

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels at the end of the week. But decisions on this post and the post of EU foreign minister, also to be created by the Lisbon Treaty, are not likely to be taken. Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty must first be completed in the Czech Republic, where a decision on a legal challenge to the treaty is only expected next week (3 November).

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