Juncker to become next European Commission president

Britain opposes appointment with Cameron saying move makes staying in EU ‘harder’

 

Jean-Claude Juncker is to become the next president of the European Commission, after the European Council backed his nomination this afternoon in Brussels.

Only two of the 28 member states voted against his appointment – Britain and Hungary. It is the first time the appointment of the head of the EU’s executive arm has been put to a vote.

Mr Juncker’s appointment will now be ratified by the European Parliament on July 16th in Strasbourg.

The main political groups in the Parliament have already signalled their backing for the 59-year old former Luxembourg prime minister.

In a message issued in English, French and German on Twitter, Mr Juncker said: “I am proud and honoured to have today received the backing of the European Council. I am now looking forward to working with MEPs to secure a majority in the European Parliament ahead of the vote on July 16.”

Speaking following the summit, British prime minister David Cameron said the job of keeping Britain in the European Union had “got a lot harder.”

“This is a bad day for Europe. It risks undermining the position of national governments... undermining the power of national parliament” he said. “It makes [renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU] harder and it makes the stakes’ higher .”

While Mr Cameron said he would continue to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in a referendum on EU membership, the decision to appoint Mr Juncker had reinforced his conviction that Europe needs to change.

“I don’t think this is the right person, I don’t think is the right process, I don’t think this is the right principle, “ Mr Cameron, adding that he had refused to sign up to the “”cosy consensus.”

He welcomed the fact that the European Council this afternoon agreed to review the Spitzenkandidat system by which Mr Juncker was selected.

Mr Cameron said a number of leaders were not happy with how the process of appointing the European Commission president had worked. “I think a lot of people who felt they were on a conveyer belt and couldn’t get off it.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel - the most significant ally Mr Cameron failed to swing behind his opposition to Mr Juncker - denied there had been a “backroom agreement” to secure his candidacy and said the leaders agreed to address UK concerns.

“It was made clear yet again that the idea of an ever-closer union, as it is stated in the treaties, does not mean that there is equal speed among the member countries but there can be different speeds that member countries adopt to come to ever-closer union,” she said in a press confrence.

“We also stated that the concerns the UK has will be addressed also as regards the European developments.”

She continued: “We also said that once the new European Commission is voted into office, we will look at the whole process of how a Commission president is actually nominated and then voted into office but so as not to give rise to any misunderstanding, obviously we will do this on the basis and in line with the language and the spirit of the treaties.”

Dr Merkel denied other countries had been offered top Commission posts in return for backing Mr Juncker. “There is no kind of backroom agreement. It is up to those countries to decide whether they support or not support this person that was suggested,” she said.

Mr Juncker served for nearly 19 years as prime minister of Luxembourg and was one of the architects of the euro, before finally being ejected last December.

He is generally held to be a pragmatic deal-maker and power broker rather than an out-and-out ideologue. He was central to the fraught negotiations over the 1997 Stability and Growth Pact that originally underpinned the eurozone, a fact that hardly endears him to Eurosceptics.

In 2005, Mr Juncker was heavily involved in amending that rulebook after Berlin and Paris broke the deficit limits. When the eurozone descended into crisis in 2008, again it was Mr Juncker at the heart of efforts to ensure its survival, from Greece’s bail-out to forging a banking union across member states.