Juncker vows ‘agenda of reform’ after being elected president

Ex-Luxembourg PM acknowledges EU has lost credibility ahead of summit

Nigel Farage (left), British Member of the European parliament and leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), greets Jean-Claude Juncker, candidate for President of the Commission, before his statement during the plenary session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

Nigel Farage (left), British Member of the European parliament and leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), greets Jean-Claude Juncker, candidate for President of the Commission, before his statement during the plenary session in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 11:32

Jean-Claude Juncker has pledged to lead the European Commission with an “agenda of reform” as the former Luxembourg prime minister was elected as the next president of the European Commission. Mr Juncker was elected with 422 votes, and 250 against, by MEP’s at a closed ballot in Strasbourg. His election, which was vehemently opposed by Britain, comes a day before a summit of EU leaders at which the other top EU jobs will be considered.

Addressing the parliament ahead of the vote, Mr Juncker said that only those who were “completely blind and deaf” were not aware that the European Union had lost some of its credibility.” The gap between the European Union and its citizens has increased [...]Europe needs to explain itself more. It’s up to us to deliver.” The new Commission president said that at a time when the distinction between war and peace was no longer in evidence, it was important to remember the founding principles of the European Union.

“Peace is not something we can take for granted, so let’s be proud of the past generations of our fathers and grandparents, who came back from the battlefields, came back from the concentration camps, who said never again.” Noting that the conflict in Ukraine was a reminder that the possibility of war still exists, Mr Juncker recalled that Europe had peacefully reunited in the 1990’s, without arms. “Let there be no such thing as old member states and new member states. There are just member states.”

Mr Juncker also pledged to assign 300 billion euro, mostly from the EU’s existing budget, to stimulate investment in the EU. Mr Juncker, who led the euro goup of euro zone finance ministers for a decade, said he was proud of keeping Greece in the euro and praised the single currency, a comment which elicted applause and boos from the chamber. While acknowledging that mistakes had been made during the euro zone crisis as Europe “tried to keep a burning airplane in the air” he said that any future adjustment programmes for countries would be accompanied by a social impact assessment.

Mr Juncker, who will replace former Portuguese prime minister Jose Manuel Barroso who headed the EU’s executive arm for a decade, also pledged to increase transparency in the ongoing negotiations between the EU and US on a trade deal. While the European Commission was in favour of the deal, European standards on health and social security should not be jeopardised, he said.

In an apparent nod to the Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group in the Parliament, which backed his candidature although he was a European People’s Party (EPP) nominee, Mr Juncker made a number of references to the social dimension of the European project. “ I want to be the president of social dialogue,” Mr Juncker said, noting that the financial crisis was not over when 25 million people remain unemployed. “We have to remember the principle that the economy has to serve people and not the other way around.”

While welcoming Mr Juncker’s appointment, the head of the S& D group, which contains more than 30 MEP’s from Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi’s socialist party, said that “countries with ambitious reforms and that invest in knowledge and know- how should not be cramped which are unduly rigid rules” in a reference to the Stability and Growth Pact. Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence party, strongly criticised the election of Mr Juncker.

“If this is European democracy in action this morning I suggest we have a rethink” he said. Pointing out that Mr Juncker’s name did not appear on any ballot paper, he said that nobody in the United Kingdom and in most other countries who voted in the European elections knew that Mr Juncker was a candidate. “The whole thing has been a stitch-up.The loser, Mr Schulz, gets the consolation prize of [GETTING]an unprecedented second term as head of the European Parliament. ” He said that Mr Juncker would carry on with the process of centralising powers, adding that “the vast majority of people don’t want a European state.”

Separately, British prime minister David Cameron today nominated leader of the House of Lords, Lord Hill, as the next British EU Commissioner. Countries are expected to nominate their commissioners by next month ahead of their appearance before European Parliament committees in September.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny travels to Brussels tomorrow for a one-day summit at which the allocation of other EU top jobs will be discussed. While the successor to Baroness Catherine Ashton as the EU’s foreign policy chief is likely to be decided, a decision on the European Council president may not be agreed tomorrow.

Among the candidates who may succeed Baroness Ashton are Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, Bulgarian commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, and Polish foreign minister Radislaw Sikorski. Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is perceived as a strong candidate to succeed Herman Van Rompuy as European Council president.