Dods EU Briefing: ALDE group hearing with Jean-Claude Juncker

ALDE group's MEPs discussed with Jean-Claude Juncker his EC Presidency program in view of EP vote on his candidacy next week.

By Dods EU monitoring

11 Jul 2014

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 July 8, the ALDE group held a hearing with Jean-Claude Juncker, candidate for the European Commission Presidency. Please find below a summary of the discussions.

Guy Verhofstadt (BE), President of the group, thanked Jean-Claude Juncker for agreeing to meeting with the ALDE group. He told Juncker that he was pleased that the Parliament opinion was taken into account by the European Council with regard to the procedure of nomination of the Commission President. The ALDE group was of the opinion that in order to boost democracy, it was necessary to enable voters to choose directly or indirectly the President of the Commission. The second step of this procedure is the approval of this nomination by the Parliament. The ALDE group is part of the pro-European majority in the Parliament and wants to continue to play a role in the Parliament. The group is also hoping to have important portfolios in the Commission. Verhofstadt then indicated that a document was sent to Jean-Claude Juncker’s staff with specific questions about the coming years. He added that the group was asking for a break from the past. The feeling with President Barroso was that he was sometimes listening more to the Council than the Parliament, giving the economic governance package as an example. The group hopes to have a Commission President who has the courage to perhaps stand against Member States and use the right of initiative of the Commission.

Verhofstadt concluded on the work supported by his group on strengthening the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact (S&G Pact) which they would not like to see put into question, before giving the floor to Commission President designate Jean-Claude Juncker.

Jean-Claude Juncker explained that he was one of those supporting the new method for appointing the Commission President. This new procedure takes into account the result of the elections and it is an important time in the history of the EU.

Juncker explained the reasons of his candidacy for the position. He said that he is not the representative of the status quo. He believes that he understands and knows Europe well and explained that he has been part of Europe’ work as a Minister for decades now. He has been travelling across Europe as a candidate and has been impressed by its diversity.

The document distributed to MEPs regarding his priorities is based on the EPP programme with his views and proposals added. Juncker puts growth and employment as priorities for Europe but noted that Europe is not responsible on its own for social and economic policies. If you want to carry out Europe to the detriment of Member States, you are on the wrong track, he explained. Growth will not come from piling up deficits on debts. You cannot spend money that you do not have, he said, stressing that if people want him to say that the Stability and Growth Pact is finished, they would be wrong. Juncker stated to be against excessive austerity but in favour of budgetary discipline. He will define what his line will be but is faithful to the S&G Pact. The Council stated that changing or amending the S&G Pact is not on the agenda but they have to use the leeway the Pact offers and be confident in it. The flexibility brought by the 2005 reform must be used. They have to organise growth that is not inflationary but that creates jobs.

Juncker set out some of his priorities, explaining first that if progresses are made in setting up a digital single market, particularly in the services sector, they would be able to generate growth and jobs and the labour market would grow.

A genuine energy union would have to be set up to put an end to excessive dependency on suppliers. Europe needs to reduce this dependency and give a real impetus to alternative sources of energy, also working on energy efficiency. But Europe on its own can do nothing, so this needs to be shared by Member States.

More investment in Europe is also needed. The current level of both public and private investment is not compatible with the EU ambitions. Juncker explained that while he still needs the confirmation of the Parliament, he started preparing his work by calling the EIB governor to ask how much the instruments can be made compatible with the need Europe has for investment to kick-start the machine. Private investment is at least as important as public investment, he added.

People would also be wrong to forget the basic values that founded Europe and continue to do so. The Charter of Fundamental Rights commits all Europeans and must be respected throughout Europe. Furthermore, he believes that the EU must sign up to the Council of Europe declaration on Human Rights and hoped this is done as soon as possible. He would also like the EU to be more socially/wealthy minded.

In fact there are many Europeans turning their back on Europe because they have the feeling that social aspects are not taken into account. The EU must take these social commitments more seriously and combat social and tax dumping, Juncker said. Continuing on taxation, he said that he wants to make sure that corporate taxation is based on harmonised tax bases so that profits are taxed wherever they are made and that things are done properly. He said yes to tax competition but not to unfair tax competition.

The immigration issue is one of growing importance, he explained. Not only Member States facing the issue today will have to face it in the future. This is a European problem, not solely a Mediterranean problem. Juncker added that it is not just about illegal immigration but also legal immigration. The question of asylum has to be looked at to avoid contrasting situations amongst Member States.

The Community method has been missing in the past few years, he continued. Juncker concluded by explaining that in the middle of the crisis they had to act quickly and he paid special tribute to the work of former Commissioner Olli Rehn.

This introductory statement was followed by a Q&A session with ALDE members.

Andrus Ansip (EE) asked about the proposed EU energy union. Given the example of progress made by the Baltic States in the past years on connection and energy security, he said that there is a need for smart energy grids for the whole of Europe. But it requires huge amount of money and there is only 9 billion euro dedicated to energy in the Connecting Europe Facility. Will the Commission put forward a proposal for an investment programme with public private funding for smart grid and for the removal of barriers in the energy market, he asked.

Juncker replied that it will depend on the contribution of the Commission to be appointed and noted that Andrus Ansip (EE) is to become one of those Commissioners. It will depend on the design of the programme the Commission will adopt. He is in favour of pushing this energy union as far as possible. He will have an in-depth discussion with the EIB in order to generate public and private money, he added. This will be for energy and ICT. He will also give a serious look at the proposal made by the Polish Prime minister on the energy union. It is common sense to become organised with a central purchasing system. If the EU can organise its energy policy in a way to be a key interlocutor, this will reduce energy costs. However, he remarked that there are very different systems in Europe.

Pavel Telička (CZ) said that there is no functioning internal market for transport in Europe. Legislation needs to be implemented and enforced. What about administrative burden, he added. Reducing them could help the EU retrieve growth.

Juncker said that transport is one of the oldest EU policies but for decades Commissioners did not take a lot of interest in transport policy. He agreed that barriers should be lifted and stated his support towards free circulation of workers. The EU must cut down on red tape, he agreed.

Antanas Guoga (LT) was happy to hear a mention of the digital single market. He noted the huge differences between Member States in terms of infrastructure and asked what Juncker’s strategy is for the digital economy and when will this comprehensive strategy be available.

Verhofstadt explained that they had a fight about money and that the previous Commission had allowed one billion euro for the next five years. What are your figures, he asked.

Juncker said that he does not yet have a figure as the Commission is not yet in place. He can give general direction but no detailed answers. Of course the financial volume has to be increased but he does not have any figures at his disposal. They have to remove the barriers and burdens. There are too many operators and regulators, he continued. Compared to China and the US, the market is fragmented. This is not only about money but about political will. Member States have to be ready to lose some of their digital sovereignty.

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