Merkel’s hesitation on Juncker opens race for EU Commission

While chancellor did not rule Luxembourg man, she acknowledged there was opposition

Chancellor Angela Merkel's diluted support for Jean-Claude Juncker's bid to be European Commission president has thrown the field open to other candidates, although it will be weeks before a single nominee emerges.

While Dr Merkel did not rule Mr Juncker out after talks with EU leaders yesterday, she acknowledged there was opposition to his candidacy and said a range of top EU jobs could only be decided in negotiations running until late June.

The European People's Party, the EU's centre-right political movement of which Dr Merkel's party is a core member, won the most seats in European Parliament elections and is firmly backing Mr Juncker to become Commission president. "I am a member of the EPP. We nominated Jean-Claude Juncker ... The entire agenda can be implemented by him, but also by many others," Dr Merkel said, choosing her words carefully as reporters peppered her with questions. "But I still have to respect the treaty."

Her reference to the treaty is heavily laden. It says the 28 heads of state and government must agree on a candidate by a “qualified majority”, which effectively means all but a handful agreeing.


But with British prime minister David Cameron openly opposed to Mr Juncker, who he regards as an old-style European federalist, and countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and some in eastern Europe and the Baltics sharing Britain's concerns, it is not clear there is majority support for the Luxembourger.

Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn said EU leaders had caved into Britain over Mr Juncker's candidacy and called yesterday's informal summit "sobering, verging on pathetic". The treaty also says EU leaders must nominate someone "taking into account" the results of the European elections. It does not say they must nominate the candidate chosen by the party that won the European elections.

The only obligation on leaders is to ensure that whoever they pick comes from the centre-right EPP family. The nominee must then be approved by parliament. If Mr Juncker is dropped over the coming weeks - or perhaps given another job such as president of the European Council, who chairs EU summits - plenty of other names are already circulating for the Commission presidency.

The person who is eventually picked for arguably Brussels’ most powerful job will go a long way to indicate how genuine the EU is about moving in a new direction prioritising growth and jobs, which leaders say is necessary to win voters back.