Wednesday

21st Nov 2018

Juncker gives glimpse of 'political commission'

  • Juncker (l) chaired his first College meeting on Wednesday (Photo: European Commission)

New EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday (5 November) vowed to defend his institution from "unjustified attacks" from EU leaders, as he chaired the first meeting of the College of commissioners.

Juncker descended to the press room after the meeting, a new weekly practice that will see either he or his "first vice-president" Frans Timmermans debrief journalists on the decisions taken by the College.

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It was also an occasion to give a glimpse into what Juncker has called "a more political" commission: assertive, almost bellicose when it comes to defending the commission from "unjustified attacks" such as budget rows with the Italian and British leaders.

"I have the firm intention to react to all unjustified criticisms, no matter where they come from. I am not someone who trembles in front of prime ministers," he said.

Referring to the British leader, who has in the past criticised him, Juncker suggested Cameron was isolated in Europe: "I don't have a problem with David Cameron, he has a problem with the other prime ministers."

True to his self-deprecating style, Juncker said he was "a bit anxious" about the high expectations journalists have from him, believing he is "able to do everything."

"I am of course able to do everything, but not in the sense you think," he quipped.

He said the college meeting delved for three hours on the economy and social issues, including on the economic forecasts published on Tuesday.

"Twenty commissioners intervened, we also launched the European Semester, which will begin with the annual growth survey under the supervision of Mr Dombrovskis and input from Mr Moscovici and Ms Thyssen," Juncker said - in reference to three commissioners dealing with economic and social matters.

"For me, the social dimension has the same importance as the economic and financial dimension of Europe," Juncker said.

The College also had a first discussion "with many interventions" on the €300bn investment package which will have to be presented in December, but Juncker said he couldn't yet give any details as to where the money would be coming from.

According to one source present at the meeting, the discussions took longer than planned also because "everybody wanted to say something," and to present themselves.

Juncker said that on Tuesday evening, he had met with the heads of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, the incoming EU council chief Donald Tusk and the head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem to prepare several more proposals on the eurozone governance, which will also be presented in December.

In another assertion of the EU commission's newly found "leadership role" among EU institutions, Juncker stressed that this eurozone governance report was being coordinated by him, "whereas the last report of the four presidents, to which I contributed as Eurogroup chief, was coordinated by the president of the European Council."

He also pledged not to interfere with any commission probe into Luxembourg taxation going back to his time as Prime Minister of Luxembourg. "I have my own opinion on it, but I'll keep it to myself," he said.

As for the concrete decisions taken by the College, Juncker announced that the task-force for Greece would be prolonged until June 2015.

Also, an in-house think-tank called the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (Bepa) will cease to exist as of Thursday.

A pet project of his predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso, Bepa was a secretive and almost invisible structure within the commission, a "golden broom cupboard" where Barroso's friends were harboured, as one EU source described it.

Instead, Juncker announced the creation, in January, of a "European strategic policy centre" which will not only advise the commission chief, but to which all other commissioners will have access to. The policies it will focus on will be the same as Juncker's priorities: economic and social matters, sustainable development, foreign policy, institutional matters and migration.

As for foreign policy, Juncker said he'll make his first trip abroad to Ukraine, but that he does not want to "rush" into all these dossiers, since "too many cooks spoil the broth."

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