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25th May 2019

Juncker elected: promises more social EU, more political commission

  • Juncker - elected European Commission president in Strasbourg on Tuesday (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Jean-Claude Juncker was elected European Commission President on Tuesday (15 July) after promising a more social Europe and paying tribute to the major integrationist politicians of the previous generation.

The former Luxembourg PM, who has been on and around the EU stage for the last two decades, received 422 votes, easily surpassing the minimum 376 needed. Of the 729 MEPs that took part, 250 voted against him, 47 abstained and 10 votes were void.

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In a 50-minute speech before the ballot, the centre-right politician said he wanted the European Commission to be "very political" and indicated he will try and revive the power of the institution - seen as sidelined after member states handled the long-running economic crisis.

He pledged to revive the "community method" - whereby the EU commission is the driver of EU law-making and strongly differentiated himself with the outgoing commission - which is associated with austerity-flavoured policies - by giving major focus to social issues in his speech.

"You can't achieve competitiveness by getting rid of social security," he said, noting that the "internal market is not more important than social affairs."

He pledged to use €300bn over the next three years for projects that focus on energy, infrastructure, and digital issues.

Other promises include making a lobbyist register obligatory, making documents around a controversial EU-US trade agreement public, and putting an end to the EU dealing with "every tiny problem".

He spoke of the eurozone eventually having its own budget and said the single currency area should be "represented by one single chair, one single office". But he said the stability and growth pact - the rules underpinning the euro - will not be changed.

He also promised to tackle "social dumping", but to leave free movement of people rules intact. He will work for a common asylum policy, and indicated there will be no new EU member states under his watch.

No mention of Barroso

Juncker - who spoke first in French, then German (the "language of the world champions"), and then English - received the greatest applause from MEPs for a strong defence of the euro and for pledging to work for more solidarity between north and south on how to tackle migration.

Ignoring current EU leaders - most notably 10-year commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, who got no mention in the speech - he reached back in time to the 1980s and 1990s for inspirational politicians.

He singled out Jacques Delors, Francois Mitterand, and Helmut Kohl - the commission president, French, and German leaders, respectively - who presided over a dynamic integrationist period in EU history - for praise.

"His work will inspire me," he said of Delors. He said all three were "patient, courageous and determined."

More power to MEPs

Tuesday's vote marks the culmination of a personal journey for Juncker which started in Spring in Dublin when he was nominated to be the centre-right's top candidate heading into the May EU vote.

But it also represents a marked power shift for the European Parliament, which, through wily political manouvering over the past year, has removed the EU leaders' perogative to nominate the EU commission president.

Juncker came to the post because his group, the centre-right EPP, won the most votes in the European election. EU leaders tried to fight the process but conceded defeat soon after the May vote.

Acknowleging the process, Juncker said that this parliament is the first to "really elect" the commission president.

"You have given full meaning to these elections," he added, with the new system now set in the EU's political and institutional landscape.

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