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Huge task ahead for Juncker

Bernd Riegert / ksbOctober 22, 2014

The commissioners are ready and the new president of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker can get to work. The biggest task lying ahead is the economy, says Bernd Riegert. But don't hold out for miracles.

Jean-Claude Juncker
Image: Reuters/Yves Herman

Jean-Claude Juncker is without doubt one of the best connected people in European politics. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. The CSU politician has been negotiating deals or forging compromises with the most important figures for the last 20 years and has been in Brussels and Strasburg longer than anyone else. As longstanding head of the Euro group, he's well acquainted with the ups and downs of European monetary and economic policy. Juncker isn't afraid of the big dogs in the EU either and has done some frank talking with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's President Francois Hollande. These are crucial requirements for the huge task that Junker, who will shortly turn 60, must now address.

Juncker's compromise: invetsment without debt

Juncker's commission will be mainly dealing with the economy and economic recovery. Despite some other regions around the world having already overcome the consequences of the 2008 and 2009 financial crisis, the EU is still struggling with the aftermath. Juncker is against a strict austerity policy as much as he's against incurring debts. Instead, he's looking for a middle ground between the German and French formula. His compromise? Investment without creating new debt. By the end of the year, he aims to find 300 billion euros. Juncker didn't reveal in his inaugural speech, however, exactly how he intends to achieve this ambitious goal. The new European Commission must ensure a re-industrialization of Europe, without giving up social standards or climate protection goals. This should be achieved, however, without creating any additional debt or financial sacrifices for taxpayers in the different member states. The success of the self-proclaimed "compromise machine," will lie in whether he succeeds to bridge the deep divide between the so-called "debt brakemen" of Germany and the "debt makers" of Italy and France.

During the summer, following the European parliamentary election, Juncker, who had initially sought his office somewhat reluctantly, mustered up a new energy and developed a new momentum, which could help him to appear more convincing than his predecessor, Jose Barroso. Portuguese Borroso was, in the words of Angela Merkel, very dependant upon the conservative heads of state and government. Many in Brussels are now hoping for a new Jaques Delors. Considered to be a legendary commissioner of the time, in the 1980s, Delors pushed for extensive reforms. Of course the EU today is much more complex than 25 years ago. The power of the supranational EU Commission has decreased in the framework of the institutions. The European Parliament and the Council, that's to say the representatives of the member states, have much more control over the EU commission than in the past. Of course, Juncker can't work independently from the heads of state and government, but he can make better use of the leeway than Barroso.

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert
DW European correspondent, Bernd Riegert

Euro-skepticism in member states

But Juncker isn't working alone. He has 27 diversely qualified commissioners who were sent by the member states. The president wants to make the work of this colorful bunch more efficient by means of seven vice presidents and a complex work-group structure. This is an interesting experiment - whether or it succeeds or not remains to be seen. Juncker already has plenty of experience, but how one leads an agency with over 30,000 officials he still has to learn himself. He was previously the head of government of a tiny nation where everyone knew each other - Luxemburg currently has a population of just 500,000. Now he's responsible for 500 million people.

The new leader of the Commission can also rely on the fact that he came out as top candidate in the European elections through a democratic process. He wants to reduce bureaucracy and make people understand why they need the EU. This is something that's sorely needed in light of the poor reputation of the EU in many member states. The real test will be to see if Juncker succeeds in keeping the United Kingdom in the European Union. He must find an answer to Euro-skepticism not only in the UK, but also in France, Italy, and Hungary. With the British, as well as the Hungarian government having opposed the old fox from Luxembourg, the outlook is looking less than positive.