Merkel endorsement likely to give Juncker edge over Barnier

Taoiseach hosts biggest international political event in Dublin for years

Jean-Claude Juncker: former Luxembourg prime minister is favourite to be EPP candidate

Jean-Claude Juncker: former Luxembourg prime minister is favourite to be EPP candidate


European centre-right leaders will decide today in Dublin between Luxembourg’s former premier Jean-Claude Juncker and French EU commissioner Michel Barnier as their candidate to take charge of the Commission this summer.

Some 2,000 delegates from around Europe gathered yesterday at the National Convention Centre to choose Mr Juncker or Mr Barnier as the candidate for the European Peoples’ Party, Fine Gael’s affiliate in Brussels and dominant force in European politics.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is host of the Dublin meeting, which is the biggest international political event in the city for years and includes about a dozen heads of government and 13 EU commissioners.

“I want this job because I was becoming increasingly angry that the European Union does appear as being divided in two parts, the so-called virtuous countries and the so-called weaker countries,” Mr Juncker told reporters in Dublin.

He is the presumed favourite after securing the blessing of German chancellor Angela Merkel. “It’s not a secret that I have a good deal of sympathy for Jean-Claude Juncker,” the chancellor said last month.

Although Mr Barnier is fighting an active rearguard campaign for the nomination, he finds himself in the opposite political camp of Francois Hollande’s socialist government in France.

The most prominent attendee in Dublin is Dr Merkel, who will have bilateral talks at Government Buildings today with Mr Kenny and attend a student debate with him at Trinity College Dublin.

Other leaders in Dublin for the event include Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy, Donald Tusk of Poland and Antonis Samaras of Greece. European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso are also in town.

The objective behind the public selection by the main European political groups of specific candidates to lead the Commission is to bring the nomination process closer to citizens when they vote in the European election in May.

However, it is not necessarily a given that the group which prevails in May will succeed in securing leadership of the Commission for its candidate. The eventual nominee must have unanimous support of the 28 heads of state and government in the EU.

Mr Juncker’s European credentials are impeccable. He was involved in the single currency since the very outset of the initiative and was chief of the group of euro zone finance ministers at the height of the financial crisis.

However, his idiosyncratic political style has met tacit criticism at the highest level of European politics. At one point when the debt debacle was at its worst, he publicly advocated lying when markets were open.

Mr Barnier took over as internal markets commissioner after Charlie McCreevy vacated the portfolio in 2010. As such, he is a central figure in the vast drive to recast European financial regulation in the wake of the crisis.

With the opening plenary session yesterday dominated by the Ukraine and Russia’s military incursion in Crimea, attention turns today to the contest to succeed Mr Barroso. He has held the Commission presidency post since 2004.