Dods EU Briefing: Statement by the candidate for President of the Commission

Written by Dods EU Monitoring on 16 July 2014 in EU Monitoring
EU Monitoring

On Tuesday, July 15, Jean-Claude Juncker gave a statement in the European Parliament Plenary prior to the vote on his candidacy for President of the European Commission.

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

On Tuesday, July 15​, the leaders of the political groups and a representative of the non-attached MEPs engaged in a debate Mr. Juncker’s statement. Please find below an overview of the discussion that took place.

Following the debate, the European Parliament elected Mr. Juncker as President of the European Commission for the EU 2014-2019 legislative term by 422 votes in favour, 250 votes against and 57 abstentions and disqualified votes.

Jean-Claude Juncker, candidate for the President of the European Commission, started the debate by saying that on May 25 citizens spoke and sent clear messages. Over the course of the next five years the EU has to answer those messages. The election of the President of the European Commission has become more democratic thanks to the action of the European Parliament. Mr Juncker said that such a Parliament does not deserve unfair attacks. He also thanked the other candidates because they also helped bring democracy to the process.

The candidate stressed that the Commission and the Parliament are community institutions and therefore the presidents of both institutions should have a privileged working relationship. They will not however work against the European Council but work along it.

As for his Presidency, Mr Juncker stressed that it will be a highly political one and the composition of the College will reflect the variety of political opinions. He warned that although the President is elected by the Parliament, he will not take orders. Nevertheless, he will listen to the Parliament and react to their resolutions. Moreover, Mr Juncker said the he will not restrict the right of MEPs to ask questions to the Commission and to the Council. In addition, he promised to make the Transparency Register mandatory.

As a general comment, Mr Juncker asked the MEPs to leave ideological debates aside and to focus on pragmatic ones. In the same context, the candidate asked national leaders to avoid criticising the EU at home as a way to justify their decisions. He underlined that in Brussels everybody wins or loses together. Finally, he called for using the community method instead of intergovernmental agreements to adopt legislation.

In relation to the state of the Union, Mr Juncker said that the EU is drifting apart from its citizens and that it needs to explain itself better. For that to happen a reform is needed and therefore business as usual is not an option. Europe, he continued, needs to take risks in order to remain internationally competitive. For Mr Juncker competitiveness cannot be achieved solely through budget cuts, it also needs investment and growth-targeted policies. Thus, the social rules must be just as important as the internal market, and social minimum standards are needed. He called this combination a ‘social market economy’. In his opinion, it is not the social market economy, but the greedy policies which have failed. As such, he called for revitalising social dialogue. Mr Juncker warned that he does not support financing debt but setting a package to ensure growth and jobs creation. In connection to this he explained that now is the time to integrate the 29th Member State: the state of those who do not have a job. By February 2015 he would like to have a working project and invest €300 billion over the next three years. To raise this sum, the candidate suggested targeting instruments already available towards youth unemployment, transport, industry, renewable energies and infrastructure. In sum, he called for a reindustrialisation of the EU. On renewable energies, Mr Juncker stressed that it is not simply a domain for the Greens but an opportunity for the EU to lead. In addition, he announced that he will extend the Youth Guarantee to people under the age of 30 and will reduce red tape for SMEs.

On the principle of subsidiarity, Mr Juncker explained that the EU needs to focus on the big European problems and leave the rest to the national governments.

Then, the candidate stated that all projects must be done in conformity with the Stability and Growth Pact. Mr Juncker made clear that the rules stipulated in the pact will not be changed but that they will be applied with the flexibility margins introduced in 2005 and 2011. Referring to the economic policies carried out in the past, he asserted that they saved the EU. Mr Juncker remarked that during the economic crisis the airplane was repaired while it was in the air, which was not easy. He reminded that there were people all over the world thinking that the EU would implode but that this did not happen. Mr Juncker acknowledged that mistakes were made and affirmed that in the future adjustment programmes must be accompanied by social impact assessments. At the same time, there should be a plan B if there is less growth than planned when applying the programme. In matters of the Troika, the candidate said that it has lacked democracy and therefore it should be subject to parliamentary control.

Mr Juncker said that the EU cannot spend money that it does not have and therefore growth should also come through the completion of the Digital Single Market. For this to happen, the candidate called for bringing down the national silos in telecoms and copyright. In particular he referred to roaming charges. The completion of this Single Digital Market would provide an added value of about €200 billion.

The candidate also referred to the need of having a real energy single market combined with climate change policy. He called to pool resources and to reduce energy dependency towards certain third countries. Mr Juncker said that the European Energy Union will lead the renewables debate and go beyond the 2020 objectives. Energy efficiency, he said, is a key if the EU wants to become leader in renewable energies. Completing this market will add another €200 billion, he said.

On the Single Market, Mr Juncker explained that the Banking Union must be completed with a Capital Markets Union. This advance would lower the costs of raising capital for SMEs. The candidate defended the free movement of workers and said that he also relies on national authorities to fight against abuses. In addition, Mr Juncker said that he will fight tax evasion, fraud and money laundering.

In relation to the Economic and Monetary Union, the candidate said that the crisis will be over only once full employment is completed. For that to happen, a better use of resources is needed. Economic governance will be established and reforms will be introduced. Moreover, financial incentives will be introduced to accompany fiscal consolidation. For that to happen, the Eurozone will have its own budgetary control, Mr Juncker said, and the Euro should also be represented by one single chair and office.

On TTIP, he claimed to be in favour of completing it. However, he warned that standards cannot be lowered and that data protection should remain outside of the negotiations. In addition, he announced that more documents will be published for the sake of transparency.

Mr Juncker then said that the protection of fundamental values is a priority for him. Thus, he said, he will appoint a commissioner charged with the implementation of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. He said that he also wants the EU to join the Convention of Fundamental Rights. He added that other challenges to be addressed include a common policy for asylum and legal migration in general, as well as the protection of the external borders.

Regarding foreign policy, Mr Juncker called for greater union and more common positions. On defence, he said, the EU will not become a counter-player against NATO; it will work along it. He announced that no new Member States will join the EU before 2019. However, he said, accession negotiations will continue and special attention will be given to the Western Balkans. He also made a call towards Ukraine, declaring that they are Europeans as well. The candidate asked the MEPs not to forget Africa either.

Mr Juncker called to create minimum homogenous standards and public services.

During the last part of his speech, Mr Juncker said that everybody should be proud of the past generations, in particular of Jacques Delors, François Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl.

Please find here the key quotes of his speech.

Manfred Weber (EPP, DE) said that the election process is a historic event for the EU.

Mr Weber stressed that Mr Juncker and several heads of government are members of the EPP, a party which has won the elections.

He added that Mr Juncker is broadly backed in the Parliament and can get the vote of all MEPs. He praised that the candidate wants growth, fiscal stability, respect for national level and a strong external policy.

To him, there are two essential ideas related to culture: First of all, change in Europe. In this context, Mr Weber warned that many people see change as a threat and therefore need to be convinced that change is positive. Fundamental things such as demography or globalisation are changing and therefore the EU needs reform, a closer union and more innovation. Second, the EPP President said, reform needs to be pragmatic. In his view Europe is more technical and Europe needs ideas for changing. That change should come through the sharing the best ideas and values from the different Member States.

Gianni Pittella (S&D, IT) recalled the situation in Gaza, where there is a war which needs to be stopped. Mr Pittella also referred to Libya and Ukraine. In this context, he reminded that the EU is, above all, a peace union and that it therefore must seek to bring peace elsewhere in the world, too.

He then said that five years ago President Barroso spoke to the Parliament when the crisis had just started and people were saying that it would end soon. In this context, he said that the crisis is not over but that there is stagnation and unemployment. The S&D President said that the EU must learn from this crisis in order to prevent future crises. For instance, he said that investment should have been re-launched instead of just cutting debts. A proper balance should have been struck. Moreover, all sectors are interconnected and therefore solidarity and more democracy are needed. Mr Pittella said that the S&D group will support Mr Juncker because they think that he has learned those lessons; however the S&D group they will scrutinise whether he acts accordingly. The S&D President said that he is happy with the priorities of Mr Juncker and agrees with many aspects of his programme, such as the references to growth, the Troika, the Youth Guarantee, and social dumping. He concluded by warning that flexibility will be intransigent to avoid that countries are crushed.

Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) gave a speech focused on the following points:

  • Europe needs to focus on the challenges of the future and not on the fears of the past.
  • The election of Mr Juncker has been the mother of all backroom deals.
  • Instead of spending more, the EU should focus on spending better.
  • The ECR group will vote against Mr. Juncker for two reasons: The group disagrees with the election process, and it is not convinced that he will bring the necessary reforms.
  • The group hopes that Mr. Juncker will prove its members wrong and become the leader that the EU needs.

Note that Mr. Kamall’s entire speech is available here.

Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) started by saying that it is a historic day for the EU because the Parliament has participated in the election process of Mr Juncker. He added that the current situation is the result of a long process. In particular, he said, the changes in the election process are due to the perseverance of ex-MEP Andrew Duff and current MEP Elmar Brok (EPP, DE).

In relation to the vote on the President of the European Commission, the Mr Verhofstadt referred to those MEPs in the EPP and the S&D groups which oppose Mr Juncker, saying that they are aligning themselves with the anti-Europeans.

Mr Verhofstadt praised the Mr Juncker’s programme for the following reasons:

  • The intention to combine austerity and growth.
  • The ideas on legal migration and values.
  • The suggestion to have a real gender-balanced Commission.

However, the Liberal leader disagreed with Mr Juncker in matters of fundamental rights. For Mr Verhofstadt there is nothing to discuss as all Member States should respect them.

Finally, he asked Mr Juncker to make the EU come back to the community method, to use the right of initiative and to create the vision that only though more integration the EU will get out of the crisis.

Gabriele Zimmer (GUE/NGL, DE) said that for her this is not a historic day because it is not as democratic as it should. To her, she said, the democratic deficit remains. Moreover, she stressed that two thirds of Europeans did not vote for the conservative forces but voted for other options or not at all. In addition, she stated, a big percentage voted for anti-EU options, which in her opinion is very dangerous.

Ms Zimmer explained that people expect social rights to be recovered and that there is no room for euphoria in this context as there is still much work to deliver. In her opinion, the key issue is about being able to tell citizens that there is an alternative to the austerity measures.

On the particular priorities of Mr Juncker, she noted that the problems with the Troika do not lie in its democratic deficit. On the contrary, she believes that they lie in the policies that it has applied. In relation to the social actions, she demanded Mr Juncker to be more specific, because the Commission has sent vague messages for years. Her main request to the candidate is that the Commission becomes more active and integrated.

She announced that her group will vote against Mr Juncker but that in the future the group’s perception towards him might change, if he helps the people be better.

Nigel Farage (EFDD, UK) said that European democracy is not democratic because Mr Juncker was not in the ballots. Moreover, nobody knew how the process worked. He also compared the Parliament vote to the Soviet regime because there is only one candidate and the voting is secret.

Mr Farage also regretted that despite the advances of Eurosceptic forces there has not been any rethinking in EU politics. He referred to the attempts of the UK Prime Minister to choose a different candidate and said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided against.

On the candidate himself, the Eurosceptic leader stated that Mr Juncker is a political operator who was capable of changing the vision that some people had of him. Mr Farage however declared that he does not believe that Mr Juncker is not a federalist because in his opinion the candidate has been at the heart of the EU for over twenty years.

Finally, Mr Farage said that people want real changes and that this elections represent a coup d’état.

If you are interested in reading the full briefing, please sign up for a free trial of the Dods EU Monitoring service.

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Jose Valls, Junior EU Monitoring Consultant

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