Sunday 21 December 2014

Merkel ignores UK, sticks with Juncker for EC president

Kylie MacLellan and Simon Johnson

Published 11/06/2014 | 02:30

Former prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo credit: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg
Former prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo credit: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

GERMAN Chancellor Angela Merkel reaffirmed her support for Jean-Claude Juncker becoming the next president of the European Commission after meeting EU leaders critical of the Luxembourger.

Ms Merkel made her statement after talks in Sweden hosted by Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and also attended by British Prime Minister David Cameron and Dutch premier Mark Rutte.

The informal meeting was held amid a campaign by Mr Cameron, who has promised a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the European Union, to prevent the federalist former Luxembourg prime minister being nominated to head the bloc's executive arm.

"I have said that for me Jean-Claude Juncker is the candidate for the office of Commission president and that I want to have him as the Commission president," Ms Merkel told a news conference.

Who becomes the next Commission head has generated heated debate since May's EU parliamentary elections, with the risk Britain could be pushed closer to leaving the EU if its opposition to Juncker is not heeded.

The four leaders talked until around 1am on Tuesday, with Ms Merkel's position unchanged, a source at Mr Cameron's office said.

Mr Cameron had hoped the meeting could give more impetus to an alliance to block Juncker but the source said discussions were "constructive but not resolved".

Britain regards Juncker as an old-style European federalist and says someone more open to reforming the EU and reducing the powers of Brussels should be picked, reflecting a widespread protest vote against the bloc last month.

Backlash

With Mr Cameron promising Britons an in-out EU membership referendum in 2017 if re-elected next year, Mr Juncker's appointment may see a political backlash in the UK.

"Obviously the approach that the European Union takes between now and then will be very important," Mr Cameron said, saying Europe had to be more open and needed leaders "capable of taking the European Union forward in that direction".

"Obviously if the European Union doesn't go in that direction that would be unhelpful," he said.

One of the British leader's problems is that he cannot afford to alienate Ms Merkel if he is to succeed in renegotiating his country's relationship with Europe prior to a referendum.

Ms Merkel, criticised by German media for her initial reticence in giving Mr Juncker full-hearted support, has indicated she does not want to isolate Britain and would prefer a broad consensus if possible.

But asked about how the debate should be conducted, she said: "Threats are not a part of it."

Mr Reinfeldt and Mr Rutte took no clear public position for or against Mr Juncker, saying that the policy agenda for the next Commission had to be agreed first.

"We have agreed that the future policy priorities of the EU must be decided before we can decide on appointments of different top jobs," Mr Reinfeldt said. But Mr Reinfeldt has made it clear that he has concerns with Mr Junker's appointment.

"We don't think that you should choose party candidates a long way in advance. That disqualifies a large number of people from being candidates for these top jobs," he said.

Irish Independent

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