Monday 20 November 2017

Merkel ready to get rid of Juncker as he is blamed for hardline stance on UK

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. Photo: AP
Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. Photo: AP

Peter Foster

Angela Merkel could move to oust Europe’s federalist chief Jean-Claude Juncker “within the next year”, a German government minister has said, in a sign of deepening European divisions over how to respond to the Brexit vote.

The German chancellor’s frustration with the European Commission chief came as Europe split over whether to use the Brexit negotiations as a trigger to deepen European integration or take a more pragmatic approach to Britain as it heads for the exit door.

“The pressure on him (Juncker) to resign will only become greater and Chancellor Merkel will eventually have to deal with this next year,” an unnamed German minister told the ‘Sunday Times’, adding that Berlin had been furious with Mr Juncker “gloating” over the UK referendum result.

 Mr Juncker’s constant calls for “more Europe” has led to several of Europe other dissenting members – including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – laying some of the blame for Brexit at his door.

 Since the June 23 vote, both the Czech and Polish foreign ministers have called publicly for Mr Juncker to resign – moves that one senior EU official dismissed last week as “predictable”. However, the rumblings from Berlin now represent a much more serious threat to Mr Juncker’s tenure.

 The split also offers a glimmer of hope for British negotiators, who are preparing for fractious EU-UK divorce talks and are desperate to avoid a repeat of February’s failed negotiations which – controlled as they were by Mr Juncker and the Commission – left David Cameron without enough ‘wins’ to avoid Brexit.

 “Everyone is determined that this negotiation is handled in the European Council – ie between the 27 heads of government – and not by the Commission, the Eurocrats and the EU ‘theologians’ in Brussels,” a senior British source said.

In a signal that that battle has already been partially won, Ms Merkel pointedly met with French and Italian leaders in Berlin last week, excluding

Mr Juncker from the conversation.

The Commission has also declined to fight the Council for the role of “chief negotiator”, according to an account of a meeting of senior EU officials seen by the ‘Daily Telegraph’.

Ms Merkel’s anger reflects a growing schism in Europe between those, like Mr Juncker and the French and Belgian leaders, who want to see “more Europe” after Brexit, and those, like Ms Merkel and her powerful finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who believe that this would be “crazy”.

Prior to the Brexit vote, senior European Commission officials were privately jubilant about the opportunity that a British Leave vote would present to complete the European project, sucking reluctant countries like Poland into the euro “within five years”.

Since Brexit, French ministers have been far less conciliatory to the UK than their German counterparts, openly salivating at the prospect of UK-based financial businesses relocating to Paris.

 Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said he was working out ways to make Paris – as opposed to Dublin

or Frankfurt – the most attractive place for relocating businesses.

“To major international companies I say, ‘Welcome to Paris! Come invest in France,’” he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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