A president for the Commission
The broad consensus on the European elections, like that on our own, has been to see them as an expression of voters’ despair at “more-of-the-same” politics and determination to give European and national establishments a good kicking.
It might seem strange then for that European establishment to respond to such a message by suggesting appointing as Commission president a man who quintessentially personifies its values and spirit and whose career is inextricably woven through the EU’s current state of chassis. Not that arch-insider Jean Claude Juncker, former Luxembourg prime minister, former chairman of the eurozone, was responsible for the mess, but a new broom he ain’t.
Curious too, that those championing him most strongly are the MEPs who sought to make the elections a rebranding exercise for the European Parliament (EP) as the EU’s real democratic voice of the people. And ironic that it is in the Council, the gathering of national leaders, that voices for an infusion of new blood are heard most vociferously.
Lost – scarcely asked – in the fog of multiple agendas is the question “who would be best for the job?”
Juncker’s qualification, his record and, some would say, lacklustre qualities notwithstanding, is that he is the nominee of the EP’s largest party, the EPP, winner of 221 seats out of 751, and is backed by the main parliament groups. Their purpose, to find a way of humanising or personalising the election, but in practice also a power grab in the EU’s permanent inter-institutional trial of strength. The Lisbon treaty allowed it to be consulted on the appointment, the EP decided to chance its arm by upgrading “consultation” into nomination rights.
British PM David Cameron’s hostility to Juncker’s appointment is partly to do with the latter’s federalist politics, but, as importantly, with fundamental, unstated, differences over the nature of the EU. For the UK the EU must remain essentially a union of nation states, ruled intergovernmentally through the Council. The EP is largely despised as a representative of a stalking federalist future, and, after all, the argument goes, heads of government have all the democratic credentials that are needed.
That argument has a resonance with other leaders, jealous of their powers and uneasy about an uppity parliament, and notably with Germany’s slippery Angela Merkel, anxious to placate Cameron, and whose support for party colleague Juncker is not all he might hope.
As for Ireland, our interest lies in a strong independent Commission that is not simply a pawn of the Council, particularly of its larger member states. The EP is an important counter-balance in the institutional evolution of the union, and its enhanced democratic standing and powers serve also to legitimise the union project. Taoiseach, Vote Juncker No1.