Jean-Claude Juncker has been approved as the next President of the Commission by the European Parliament (EP) during a meeting in Strasbourg on July 15th, 2014. The new rules, since the Treaty of Lisbon, entail that the President of the Commission must be elected by absolute majority by the EP, meaning at least 376 of the 751 total votes. Juncker received 422 votes in favor, 250 against and 47 abstentions, which represents 56% of the vote (note that only 729 MEPs were in Strasbourg for the vote).
The election of Juncker does not come at a surprise considering the new institutional design implemented by the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. Following the European elections in May 2014, the leading party, in this case the center-right Europe People’s Party (EPP), won the most seats at the EP (see the results here). For such reason, Juncker became the leading candidate for the Commission’s top job. He was then approved by European leaders during the Council meeting in late June 2014. The vote at the EP marks the end of the appointment process of the Mr. Juncker as the new President of Commission. Following the vote, the Euroskeptics, and especially the MEPs from the French extreme-right wing party, le Front National, expressed their opinion comparing such elections as a mascarade and a direct threat to national sovereignty. Such opinion could not be further from the truth; as argued by Juncker in his speech, “For the first time, a direct link has thereby been established between the outcome of the European Parliament elections and the proposal of the President of the European Commission” (p. 2).
A more social Europe
Prior to the vote, Mr. Juncker delivered a speech before the EP in French and German. The linguistic choice is already marking a split with his predecessor principally using English (yes, languages still matter in Europe especially for the French). In his speech, entitled A new start for Europe: My agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change, Mr. Juncker laid out his ‘political guidelines’ for his next Commission. In short, he promises a more social Europe.
In his introduction, Mr. Juncker explains his vision of his job for the next five years:As candidate for President of the European Commission, I see it as my key task to rebuild bridges in Europe after the crisis. To restore European citizens’ confidence. To focus our policies on the key challenges ahead for our economies and for our societies. And to strengthen democratic legitimacy on the basis of the Community method.
In sum, Juncker wants to establish himself as the transition from a Europe in crisis to a reforming and growing Europe. Could it be that the EU finally stop seeking solutions in perpetual institutional make-up, and now focuses on launching meaningful policies? His agenda for his quinquennum is based around 10 policy areas listed below:
- boosting employment, growth and investment
- creating of a digital single market
- establishing a European Energy Union aligned with environmental standards
- stronger industrial base to boost the internal market (related to the four freedoms of the common market: goods, services, capital and people)
- adjusting the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) through greater convergence of national economic, fiscal and labor policies
- concluding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
- promoting fundamental rights and rule of law
- developing a new EU policy in migration (common asylum policy, policy on legal migration and irregular migration, securing the borders)
- continuing the fostering of the EU as a global actor (more effective EU foreign policy; greater cooperation with the HR/VP; deepening the defense market at the EU level; and digestion of the 13 recent EU Member States). Juncker underscores, even put the sentence in his speech in bold, that no further enlargement would take place in the next five years (the Balkans and Ukraine will have to wait)
- promoting and developing a more democratic Europe with greater transparency and communication
This speech seems aligned with national demands – from European citizens -. An important problem that Barroso may not have handled well enough was the low level of the communication and understanding between European citizens and Brussels. Juncker’s agenda is broad, but yet focused, and tackles a lot issues important to the European citizens such as legal and illegal migrations, TTIP, GMOs, energy, environmental policy and so on. Now, his task will be to convey the message to Europeans.
The overall process for the appointment of the new Commission is composed of several steps: first, the European elections; second the appointment of the new President of the Commission; third, the selection and appointment of the new Commission and other EU’s top jobs. The transfer of power from Barroso to Juncker is scheduled for November 2014. The rest of the Commission, meaning the Commissioners (read here the possible nominees for the different seats at the Commission), has yet to be approved by the European Parliament after the summer.
But the hiring process seems much more difficult than expected. For instance, European leaders were supposed to have selected the new EU foreign policy chief – legally called High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission (read here an analysis on the position) – and the President of the European Council, but have failed to do so. The political fight, or bargaining process, over the appointments of top EU’s jobs has been difficult. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was quoted saying during the negotiations, “it can very well be that it’s just a first discussion and no decision yet. I am rather sceptical we can agree today.” The meeting ended after midnight with no decisions on the next EU diplomatic chief and President of the European Council. EU leaders are scheduled to meet again on August 30th. The time lapse may indicate the difficulty of the negotiation and lack of agreement on the these two top positions as well as some of the candidates for positions in the Juncker Commission.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).