EU integration and economic recovery are key for new European Commission President

August 13, 2014 10:15 am

On July 15th Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, was elected new President of the European Commission. Winning the votes of 422 of the 729 MEPs, he will take up his office in November.

Before the vote, the politician presented his “New Start for Europe” program, in which he highlighted a number of priorities in many areas. In particular, Juncker stated that in three months, he would prepare a three-year program that will create new jobs and gather €300 billion in investments. In addition to that, he announced his plans to introduce a minimum wage in all EU member-states, reduce red tape for SMEs, and ensure Europe’s energy security.

During his election campaign, Juncker was met harshly by the Eurosceptics, as well as David Cameron. The British PM frequently called Juncker’s candidacy unsuitable for Europe, and suggested a vote in his favour would push the UK towards seceding from the EU. “[Jean-Claude Juncker] is the ultimate Brussels insider who has been at the table for the last two decades of decisions. If you want change, is that the type of person you want for the future?”  The Guardian quotes The Prime Minister.

Jean-Claude Juncker

Foreign observers differ in opinion on the new head of the European Commission. Bruno Waterfield of The Telegraph recalls the Luxembourg politician’s eccentric nature. “Famous for his sarcasm, heavy drinking and chain smoking, Mr. Juncker is not known to have other interests outside politics. He is married, but has no children. According to friends he has a collection of newspaper cuttings and can pinpoint a quote or moment in his political career by pulling out a file,” the writes.

However at the same time, Charlotte McDonald-Gibson of The Independent writes that the Luxembourg politician who worked as an MP for 20 years not only gathered a wealth of experience but also studied the European Union policy mechanisms through and through. “He knows the EU politics inside out, serving as head of the group of Eurozone finance ministers from 2005 to 2013,” she stresses, and notes that even Juncker’s opponents choose to rely on his diplomatic skills to a certain degree.

Worldwide experts also note Juncker’s extensive experience. Patrick Sensburg, German MP from the CDU/CSU fraction, said in an interview to “PenzaNews” agency that he considers Jean-Claude Juncker a suitable candidate for this post. “He is highly experienced and widely recognised.” In his opinion, these qualities will be vital for finding solutions to the most crucial EU problems in the next few years. “The three most urgent challenges we are currently facing in Europe are: economic stability, peace and security, and responsiveness. In order to maintain economic stability, we need sound financial structures and a healthy budget. Peace and security requests a transnational approach. Further, Europe has to focus on its responsiveness in order to strengthen the citizen-orientated policy,” Sensburg explained. He also added that the new head of the European Commission has all the tools to influence the EU budget which will be necessary to make steps in the right direction. In addition, Mr Sensburg suggested that Jean-Claude Juncker must push for uniting the European Union members under a single banner. “In order to tackle all challenges, the member states need to let the EU speak more on their behalf with one voice instead of running the risk of 28 different contradictory statements.”

Meanwhile, Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, head of the Madrid office at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said there will be no radical changes in the European Union during Juncker’s term in the office, because the large Parliament coalitions are currently stable. At the same time, according to the expert, the external policy will mostly depend on the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs. However, the new European Commission President will be able to deliver in a number of areas because of Juncker’s long-term political job experience. “Those who criticise him on ground of representing the European establishment are right, but the European establishment does not see this as a problem, but as an asset,” Jose Ignacio Torreblanca explained. According to him, out of all European issues, Jean-Claude Juncker must first deal with the unemployment and economic decline that threaten to undermine both financial and social support for Europe. In order to prevent that, the Luxembourg politician must use the promised €300 billion investment and the existing Stability Pact rules, whilst escaping economic dogmatism by all means. “Europe cannot afford stagnation. This fuels Euroscepticism and populism,” Torreblanca warned.


On the same topic, Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, stressed that the urgent problems the new European Commission President will have to deal with are not only within Europe. “The most important external issue is to stabilise the development in the European neighbourhood. That is partially in the relations with Russia, but also in the South where you have dramatic developments — the ongoing assaults on the Mediterranean Sea and also in the Middle East,” he said. At the same time, the analyst noted that he does not consider Jean-Claude Juncker the best candidate for the post. “It’s difficult to tell if it is a good choice. He’s very experienced, but he’s not so charismatic.” Sverdrup also pointed out that the European Commission policy will be determined not only by its President, but also by the team itself. However, who exactly will be in the team is currently impossible to tell. “There is a political bargaining game going on now, with different countries nominating different candidates,” he added.

Meanwhile, Daniela Kietz, research associate at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, suggested that the new European Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker, may become one of the strongest in the last few years. “He is the first EU commission president who got nominated and then elected directly through the European elections,” she emphasised. In her opinion, this has the potential to work well in combination with the former Prime Minister’s great experience and his centrist politics. “He belongs to a strong conservative Christian-Democratic party, but his politics are also acceptable to Social Democrats. He is someone who can easily find a compromise between the two biggest party groups in Europe.”

From her point of view, the new head of the European Commission must use this chance not only to lead the EU out of economic stagnation, but also to solve a number of currently present issues on data protection, migration policy, united European energy network and more. At the same time, the expert noted that Juncker’s room for manoeuvre is fairly limited, and because of that the public should not expect too much from the European Commission in the next 5 years. “He can try to solve the EU economic problems, and he has a number of instruments that he can use, especially regarding the European budget and how its money can be used over the next few years, but he cannot buy himself a solved economic crisis in Europe,” Daniela Kietz explained.

Dániel Bartha, executive director of the Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy in Hungary, agrees. “Juncker himself will have a very limited impact. We have to see who will be the High Representative for External Affairs and the Commissioner for Enlargement,” he says. At the same time, the Bartha notes that the new European Commission will have to do great work on many internal and external tasks and problems, with some of them being no less important than finding the way out of the economic crisis.

Among other things, inside the EU Jean-Claude Juncker will have to face the Brexit threat, while outside Europe the Ukrainian crisis and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks with the USA will dominate the next few months and years. However, Bartha believes that the new European Commission president is the man who can unite the EU against these troubles. “Juncker was not the best available, but the best compromise for the job. The fact that the member-states could have an early compromise in this question was a promising sign. Juncker can be a good person for managing the relaunch and strengthening of the EU’s competitiveness and economy,” he concluded.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, held the office of the Prime Minister of Luxembourg since 1995 and carried out the duties of the Minister of Labour and later the Minister of Finance. In 2013, Juncker resigned due to the State Intelligence Service scandal. He was appointed Permanent President of the Eurogroup for three terms since January 2005. In July 2012, Juncker’s mandate was extended by 2.5 months; however, he stepped down from this position in January 2013. Jean-Claude Juncker was a key architect of the Maastricht Treaty and was one of the developers of the EU Stability and Growth Pact, which limits the European Union countries’ structural deficit and government debt levels. He is a supporter of European integration and strong EU institutions.

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