EC President Juncker defends system against French calls for reform | News | DW | 14.02.2018
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EC President Juncker defends system against French calls for reform

Outgoing EC chief Jean-Claude Juncker has denied pushing for a European super-state. He defended the way top EU officials are chosen, despite the wishes of France's President Emmanuel Macron.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker used strong language to push back on comments made earlier in the day by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

"Some in British political society are against the truth, pretending that I am a stupid, stubborn federalist, that I am in favor of a European super-state," Juncker told a news conference in Brussels. "I am strictly against a European super-state. We are not the United States of America ... This is total nonsense."

Speaking in London, Johnson had said: "The process of integration has deepened and the corpus of EU law has grown ever vaster and intricate, and ever more powers and competencies have been handed to the EU institutions."

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Jean-Claude Juncker: 'Sufficient progress has been made'

Keeping with the 'Spitzenkandidat' election system

Juncker also pushed back against proposals from the French president for a new election system for the EU. He said there was not enough time to implement transnational voting lists for European Parliament elections in 2019, a proposal the EU parliament voted down last week.

"After the EU Parliament's vote I cannot see how this could be done for 2019," Juncker said in Brussels on Wednesday.

Instead, at a meeting in the morning, the 28 EU commissioners agreed to remain with the system which had brought Juncker to power for a five-year term in 2014: "We have agreed today that we want to stick to the experience we have made in 2014, when I was the Spitzenkandidat of my party," Juncker told reporters, using the German terminology for the system whereby the lead candidate of the biggest political party should be made president of the EU executive - the Commission.

The EU Commissioners are the Commission's political leadership. Made up of one appointee from each member country, the Commission's role is to propose and enforce legislation, implement policies and the EU budget.

French newcomers

"All of those running for the European Parliament have to declare well before the European elections to what group they would belong in case they are elected," Juncker said. "Citizens don't like to vote for black cats."

His comments have been seen as a thinly-veiled criticism of French President Emmanuel Macron and his newly-formed Republique En Marche party which has not yet declared which EU grouping it will join. "It’s totally possible to set up your own group and I believe that European reformists have a vocation to federate around them other movements," Macron said in Paris this week.

Macron proposed the plan to allow 30 of the 73 seats vacated by Britain after it leaves the bloc to be elected on pan-European tickets. Macron and several other national leaders also oppose the Spitzenkandidat system on grounds of open democracy and political choice. They are to discuss the EU election process at a Brussels summit on February 23.

Reacting to the European Parliament vote against his proposal, Macron said on Tuesday: “It shows there’s an ossification and a willingness to defend party interests rather than democratic ones" he told the Elysee Press Corps in Paris.

Juncker speaking at the European Parliament

Juncker speaking at the European Parliament

Political spaghetti

"Europe would gain from a political revamp... which is both possible and desirable if we want to give a clear mandate to the commission," Macron told reporters. He accused the EU leadership of being ideologically incoherent with "fundamental differences" within the political groupings of the conservative EPP, the social democratic S&D and the liberal ALDE.

The S&D Group has 190 members and it is the only political group in the European Parliament with representatives from all 28 member states. The EPP is a center- right, pro-European party with 70 national parties from 40 countries. 

Emmanuel Macron speaking in Paris

Emmanuel Macron speaking in Paris

Around half of the European Commission are also members of the wider EPP, including Juncker. It also includes Germany's Christian Democrats with Manfred Weber of the CSU at its head.

The centrist ALDE liberal and democrat alliance saw its numbers fall in the 2014 EU elections as support for the UK Liberals and German Free Democrats fell. 

French Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has been cited as the early front runner to take over the EC presidency in 2019.

jm/kms (Reuters, AFP)

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