Tuesday, July 15, 2014 1:27 pm
by Christian SPILLMANN
STRASBOURG (AFP) – Luxembourg’s former conservative premier Jean-Claude Juncker won the endorsement Tuesday of the European Parliament to become president of the powerful European Commission for the next five years.
Despite sharp opposition from Britain and Hungary, Juncker had been put up as a candidate for the job by 26 of the European Union’s 28 leaders, but needed a majority of at least 376 votes in parliament to take up the post.
He mustered 422 votes in favour — with 250 votes against, 47 abstentions and 10 spoiled ballots — which was a little short of the 480 lawmakers that make up the three mains groups, the conservatives, the social-democrats and the liberals.
“Europe has lost much of its credibility, the gap between the European Union and its citizens has grown,” he said.
The vote paves the way to an extraordinary EU summit Wednesday in Brussels that will allow EU leaders to complete a jigsaw of appointments for the next years, including a new EU foreign policy chief as well as a successor to Herman Van Rompuy as EU Council president.
Until losing elections in Luxembourg last year, Juncker was the longest-serving EU leader.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had wanted a new and more reform-minded face to reboot the EU, which in May elections saw a huge surge in favour of eurosceptic parties across the bloc.
Juncker, who takes over from outgoing Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, faced angry jeers Tuesday from Britain’s popular eurosceptics when he spoke out strongly in favour of the euro, saying “the euro protects Europe”.
A staunch pro-European, the 59-year-old Juncker pledged that his Commission would be socially-minded and less bureaucratic while working to revitalise and re-industrialise the European Union.
“There is a 29th member of the EU emerging, the state of those without jobs… I would like this 29th member to be integrated with the others,” he said as he called for a 300-billion-euro three-year investment plan.
“The EU lost competitiveness because it was stuck in neutral, it must once again move forward,” he said, but “we must not achieve that at the expense of social policies.”
He also pledged more burden-sharing in tackling Europe’s problems in coping with the floods of migrants knocking at its doors and said he would name a commissioner with a new portfolio to defend fundamental rights.
– ‘Nations at each others’ throats’ –
Juncker’s next hurdle is to put together a new Commission for the next five years made up of one member per EU member state.
With nations at each others’ throats for the key jobs — economic affairs, energy, competition — the composition of each commission is always a difficult affair.
This one has thrown up a new challenge. Juncker is worried at the lack of women being proposed by member states to join his team.
Last week the women of the current Commission, which steps down in autumn, launched a campaign to get 10 or more female candidates named to the next EU executive.
A letter circulated for signature by the nine women says Juncker needs to improve on the record of Barroso, who gave around a third of jobs to women as commission head over the past decade.
“The European Union is committed to making continual progress towards gender equality. Such progress demands an increase, not a decrease in the number of female commissioners,” the letter says.
Having at least nine women on his executive is one of the conditions set by the Liberals to back Juncker.
But so far, capitals are putting forward only men. On Tuesday, Britain named Jonathan Hill, the leader of the House of Lords, as its nominee.
The names of a few female candidates are circulating, among them Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, and current Bulgarian commissioner Kristalina Georgieva — both as candidates to take over from foreign policy chief, Britain’s Catherine Ashton.
Juncker will submit a full line-up of 28 commissioners to lawmakers in October.