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EU parliament endorses Juncker's new team

October 22, 2014

The European Parliament has approved the incoming European Commission. The team, headed by former prime minister of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Juncker, is expected to take office on November 1.

Juncker im Europaparlament 22.10.2014
Image: Reuters/Christian Hartmann

Juncker's team of 27 commissioners was endorsed with 423 votes at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, with 209 MEPs voting against, and 67 abstaining.

Juncker replaces outgoing commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and is due to begin his term at the beginning of November.

The commission, which includes one member from each of the 28 EU member states, is Brussels' most powerful institution, known in EU parlance simply as "the executive." It will draft EU policy and oversee national budgets for the next five years in a bloc with roughly 507 million inhabitants.

"In the coming weeks and months, the commission must play a key role to confront the challenges we face," said Benedetto Della Vedova, a junior minister at the Italian Foreign Ministry. Italy will hold the bloc's presidency, which rotates every six months, until the end of the year.

During his keynote address to parliament ahead of the vote, Juncker told lawmakers the EU had to show Europeans it was working in their interests to tackle key problems such as Europe's struggling economy and high unemployment rate.

"Let's get Europe moving again," he said. "Citizens are losing faith."

Juncker also acknowledged the anti-EU backlash during the EU Parliament elections in May, admitting bloc needed to work hard to win the public's trust.

"Extremists on the left and right are nipping at our heels. Our competitors are taking liberties. It is time we breathed a new lease of life into the European project," he said, adding that economic improvement was vital to getting EU citizens onboard.

Challenges ahead

Juncker said the EU had to do more to combat crises such as the Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa, and the threat posed by "Islamic State" militants in Iraq and Syria.

"We only reacted when the Ebola problem arrived on EU shores. We should have acted much sooner," he said.

Juncker also told the European Parliament he planned to present his 300-billion-euro ($380-billion) plan for investment to boost economic growth and jobs before the end of the year. Although it is not yet clear where the money for the scheme will come from, Juncker appealed to the private sector to invest more and for governments to continue containing their own budget deficits.

Juncker said there would be no change to the EU's stringent budget rules, adding that they offered wriggle room to encourage growth. He also lamented the fact that Germany and his native Luxembourg were the only two EU member countries to retain their AAA rating. "I want Europe to achieve a social AAA," he said.

Germany, Europe's dominant economy, has resisted calls from other eurozone states for it to increase public investment spending to kick-start economic growth.

Late shuffle

Wednesday's vote follows days of rigorous cross-examination of the commission nominees by MEPs, which resulted in some last minute changes to Juncker's team.

Hungary's nominee Tibor Navracsics, who had been criticized by EU lawmakers for his links to the Hungarian government, was shifted out of the citizenship portfolio and replaced with the new home affairs commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos of Greece. Under pressure from MEPs, Juncker nominated Violeta Bulc from Slovenia to the post of transport commissioner and named Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic as vice-president, responsible for energy union.

Other changes included keeping responsibility for pharmaceutical goods within the health commission, rather than moving it to the internal market portfolio as Juncker had planned.

nm/glb (Reuters, dpa, AFP)