At a Friday summit, European Union leaders nominated former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker to be the next president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch.
The decision was made despite strong objections from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had mounted a vehement campaign against Juncker’s candidacy in the weeks before his nomination.
Confirmation of Juncker’s nomination was announced on Twitter by European Council president Herman Van Rompuy.
“Decision made,” he wrote. “The European Council proposes Jean-Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission.”
Fellow leaders immediately sought to assuage Cameron – and an increasing eurosceptic British electorate – by promising to address London’s concerns about the EU’s future and to review the process for choosing future European Commission presidents.
Cameron forced an unprecedented vote at an EU summit to dramatise his opposition both to the way Juncker was chosen and to his suitability to head the European Commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws.
The British premier was outvoted 26-2 on a show of hands in a solemn moment that highlighted Britain’s isolation in the continental bloc of which it has been an uneasy, semi-detached member since 1973.
“The job has got harder of keeping Britain in a reformed EU,” Cameron said after his defeat. “The stakes are higher, the battle to reform this organisation is going to be longer and tougher, no doubt about that.”
In a Europe crying out for reform, leaders had gone for a “career Brussels insider”, he added.
Juncker, 59, a veteran deal-broker at EU summits for more than two decades, will now go before the European Parliament for a confirmation vote on July 16, where he is likely to win a majority of centre-right and centre-left lawmakers.
EU leaders will hold another summit the same day to decide on the other main EU jobs, including a successor to Van Rompuy, a new foreign policy chief to replace Ashton and an economic policy czar.
Only Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban joined Cameron in voting “no” to Juncker. Officials in the room said many leaders expressed sympathy for the British leader’s position before the vote and there was no gloating after the show of hands.
Right after the vote, they agreed to add several points to their final statement, saying Britain’s concerns about the EU’s future “will need to be addressed” and that the treaty principle of “ever closer union” – a bugbear to British eurosceptics - allowed for different paths of integration for different countries.
Britain, for example, has kept out of the euro single currency project and Europe’s open-borders Schengen zone.
EU officials also promised to review the process for appointing future Commission chiefs once the new EU executive is in place – a nod to British objections to what Cameron called a power grab by the European Parliament.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, keen to keep Britain in the EU, said, “I believe that the conclusions that we agreed showed we are ready to take British concerns seriously. The entire strategic agenda reflects Britain’s desire, which I share, for a modern, open, efficient European Union.”
Britain has argued that Juncker is an old-fashioned federalist who lacks the will and the skills to reform the EU.
Other leaders spelled out why they think he is the right man for the job. Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras called him “a passionate European who can bridge differences... but also a realist.”
The dispute was one of the most public and personal the European Union has experienced in a decade, damaging efforts to present a united front at a time when the bloc is recovering from an economic crisis and keen to bolster its global image.
Juncker was the leading candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party, which won the most votes in European Parliament elections last month.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-06-27