No easy answer for Merkel on EU job

Phone a friend call to chancellor goes unanswered

Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister and president of the Eurogroup. Dr Merkel said yesterday she would back Mr Juncker “in all the talks”.

Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister and president of the Eurogroup. Dr Merkel said yesterday she would back Mr Juncker “in all the talks”.

 

When Chancellor Angela Merkel answers her phone these days, she knows not everyone phoning her is a friend. As the high-stakes political poker over the EU’s top jobs enters its second week, the German leader was offered respite from the tension when a party colleague called her during the celebrity special of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Stuck on the €500,000 question Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of her ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), grabbed his mobile to phone a friend – in Germany dubbed the “Telefon-Joker”. The friend he phoned was Angela Merkel. The question: “The East German washing machine WM66 was legendary because many owners also...”

The correct answer was not “generate heat”, “vacuum dust” or “listen to West German radio” but “stew fruit”. Sadly Dr Merkel didn’t answer – the call went to voicemail – so Mr Bosbach decided to settle for €125,000 for his favourite charities.

Minefield

Unlike a quiz show, Europe’s post-election landscape is a minefield with no single, correct answer. Rather than answer the phone, Dr Merkel was no doubt plotting her next move in a battle she is facing on four fronts caused by the European election and its lead candidate or Spitzenkandidat system, an innovation she opposed.

On one front she has to humour her European conservative (EPP) colleagues by supporting their winning candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker, as next European Commission president.

In parallel she is working to prevent a revolt by British prime minister David Cameron. He warned last week that appointing Mr Juncker could endanger his government and even Britain’s EU membership.

Dr Merkel said yesterday she would back Mr Juncker “in all the talks”.

“It’s not as though I don’t mind, for example, whether Britain is a member of the European Union or not,” she said.

She expressed hope the “controversial” decision for a commission head would be taken in the “spirit of Europe” with the “highest degree of consensus” possible. It was a nod to London that the final decision can be reached by a qualified majority if necessary, against Britain’s will.

Two other battle fronts loom. The German leader wants to face down the European Parliament in this battle. German officials accuse MEPs of a “putsch” attempt, using the lead candidate or “Spitzenkandidat” election innovation as a trojan horse for a power-grab against EU leaders.

Schadenfreude

Finally, on the home front, the German leader is facing very public Schadenfreude on Juncker from her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition allies.

“It’s absurd that we’re seriously discussing whether an election winner is now allowed take over the role he aimed for,” said Thomas Oppermann, SPD Bundestag floor leader.

SPD general secretary Yasmin Fahimi warned the German leader yesterday not to allow London decide the EU’s future direction.

“It would be a farce if Europe would let itself be blackmailed by someone who doesn’t understand Europe [and] agitates against Europe to boost his domestic profile,” said Ms Fahimi.