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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

From democratic revolution to "back-room massacre": Is Germany's press already suffering from a Juncker hangover?

Many of us have been there. Waking up on a Sunday morning. Head sore. Mouth dry. And not entirely pleased with our behaviour the previous night. "What was I thinking" type of thing.

It seems like German media is there too over the, by now, highly-likely appointment of Juncker as a the next European Commission President. As we've argued before, no one particularly wants Juncker, but due a series of coinciding factors in the randomness that is EU bargaining, here he is. A significant chunk of the German commentariat - for reasons relating to the German conflicted political consciousness - have been the most vocal supporters of Juncker via the Spitzenkandidaten process. Cameron has been pitted against Germany.

Except that a whole host of Germans were uncomfortable with the Spitzenkandidaten all along. As the moment of truth draws closer, influential German commentators are waking up to smell the coffee (to continue the hangover analogy).

And they're going hard.

Today Handelsblatt's leader, by its international correspondent Torsten Reicke argues, "Juncker's victory is a defeat," and that the tussle over the EU top jobs is "grotesque." He writes: 
Hardly anyone considers Juncker to be the right candidate for the right time. The opposite is true. The almost 60-yr old eurocrat is symbolic of a Europe of elites, which the citizens turned their back on in the [European Parliament] elections in May. 
Both in terms of substance and style, Juncker's European politics represent "more of the same," and [they] subscribe "more Europe" to deal with every problem...[But citizens] definitely do not want "more of the same. Whoever wants the new Commission to change course, ensuring a better balance in the tug-of-war between the national parliaments and Brussels cannot be satisfied with [Juncker's election].
Reicke also points out that Germany will lose a vital economically-liberal ally if there is Brexit. This fear has been heightened as Italy and France have been trading support for Juncker in exchange for a loosening of the EU's fiscal rules. As Reicke writes:
Juncker's appointment takes the UK one step closer to Brexit. This would be a disaster for Britain, but also for Europe. Without Britain we will not be able to maintain a liberal economic outlook, but more importantly, [we’ll also lose] political clout on the world stage.
By allowing Juncker to win the job, Reicke continues, that a dangerous precedent is being set: formalising a power-grab by the European Parliament at the expense of the European Council. Reicke concludes that Merkel "will be responsible if Europe allienates itself further from citizens with the election of Juncker."

Similarly, Süddeutsche’s Foreign Affairs editor Stefan Kornelius points out that:
This is what a perfect political trap [by the European socialists] looks like. Nobody should blame the British David Cameron for the conflict: those raging in anger are, of course, not loved. But at least he speaks frankly from his heart. What started as a democratic exercise four weeks ago now ends in a real backroom massacre. This can only further damage the European institutions and the people working for them.
He continues:
The honest answer is: these elections have only produced losers so far. So it doesn't appear to bother the Socialists to wade-in even deeper. The Conservatives are stuck with an unloved Spitzenkandidat for who's election they will still have to pay a price.
Meanwhile, Die Welt’s Henryk Broder writes that  he "wants his vote back," arguing that current haggling over the EU top jobs shows that the EP elections were: "Not about peace, democracy and jobs -- they were about the spoils of power." He continues:
What were the European elections about? If you believed the slogans of the parties, they were about a Europe of opportunity - not unemployment; a Europe for citizens, not for money; a Europe of democracy -not paternalism. And naturally for the "European Peace Project"... But in reality, they were about something completely banal: posts and power-plays, to forward the career of two eurocrats, who are partly responsible for the situation in which Europe finds itself, and therefore, especially qualified to continue with this tone and direction.

It's completely irrelevant whether Schulz becomes the President of the Parliament, or Juncker becomes the President of the Commission, or vice versa. Or even if they both take over the management of the Brussels brassiere - Schulz on even and Juncker on uneven days. The "elections" were a hoax, the ensuing-struggle is the same. That is why I want my vote back.
Even Bild, who were campaigning to instill Juncker, seemed to semi-endorse Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt last Friday, with the headline: "Why isn't this fantastic Dane becoming the Head of the EU?" and continuing that her appointment "would end the tussle over Juncker."

Sore head indeed.

11 comments:

Denis Cooper said...

"By allowing Juncker to win the job, Reicke continues, that a dangerous precedent is being set: formalising a power-grab by the European Parliament at the expense of the European Council."

Are we to take it that many of the Germans are as ignorant about some of the details of the Maastricht Treaty as many of the British?

This is not a "power-grab by the European Parliament", it is just MEPs finally getting themselves organised to more effectively exercise a power that was freely granted to them by the member state governments over two decades ago, through their Maastricht Treaty on European Union.

Here from 1992, still available on the EU website, is that treaty:

http://old.eur-lex.europa.eu/en/treaties/dat/11992M/htm/11992M.html#0001000001

And here is its Article 158, which first involved the EU Parliament in the appointment of the EU Commission and its President instead of that being the sole prerogative of the member state governments as it was previously, and moreover effectively granted the EU Parliament a veto:

"Article 158

1. The members of the Commission shall be appointed, in accordance with the procedure referred to in paragraph 2, for a period of five years, subject, if need be, to Article 144.

Their term of office shall be renewable.

2. The governments of the Member States shall nominate by common accord, after consulting the European Parliament, the person they intend to appoint as President of the Commission.

The governments of the Member States shall, in consultation with the nominee for President, nominate the other persons whom they intend to appoint as members of the Commission.

The President and the other members of the Commission thus nominated shall be subject as a body to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. After approval by the European Parliament, the President and the other members of the Commission shall be appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States.

3. Paragraphs 1 and 2 shall be applied for the first time to the President and the other members of the Commission whose term of office begins on 7 January 1995.

The President and the other members of the Commission whose term of office begins on 7 January 1993 shall be appointed by common accord of the governments of the Member States. Their term of office shall expire on 6 January 1995."

Note paragraph 3: the EU Parliament would be involved "for the first time" for the appointments with terms beginning on 7 January 1995, in the meantime for those beginning on 7 January 1993 the previous procedure would be used, that is to say the member state governments would decide without involving the EU Parliament as had always been the case back to 1957.

Redstorm said...

It says after consultation nothing about choosing their candidate

Anonymous said...

Gee Mr Cooper, thanks for clearing that up for us. Yawn.

Jesper said...

Pushing for a vote on Juncker now seems to be unwise. That being said, having forced the issue the opinions and concerns have been voiced.

Maybe the decision can be delayed? And if so, while we wait:I'd love to hear why France supports Juncker, the french elections does seem to indicate that they want something else...
The cynic in me would believe it to be the french 'elite' supporting the european 'elite' against the wishes of the electorate. Democracy in action or something else?

Anonymous said...

I want my vote back too.

It was stolen from me under the guise of joining a "Common Market" and has turned into a coup d'état across many European states.

When it comes to Europe and the EU, I neither trust the EU nor our own politicians to nurture and protect our national interest.

Time to escape the mad house.

SC

Rollo said...

Which David Cameron is this, who speaks frankly from the heart?

Average Englishman said...

Thank you Denis for taking the time and trouble to research this thing properly. I suspect you are correct that most of the politicians who supported the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties didn't really know what they were signing up for and it is all finally dawning on some of them what really happened. The same attitude as expressed in the first Anonymous post in this blog today.
Someone once said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. This is certainly true for the EUSSR.

I like to think that maybe, just maybe, courtesy of his recent and continuing EU traumas Dave will wake up a little to what the EU is really all about - an undemocratic power grab. Stranger things have happened. If Dave really wanted to be a statesman he could lead the UK out of the EU and then his party would be well and truly set in power for a generation. Well it is sunny outside and a man's allowed the occasional dream.

Denis Cooper said...

Average Englishman -

"The same attitude as expressed in the first Anonymous post in this blog today."

Yes, "Yawn" is how Kenneth Clarke could have put it, rather than saying that of course he hadn't read the Maastricht Treaty because it was too "boring", and as the then Europe Minister Caroline Flint could have put it when she admitted that she hadn't actually read the Lisbon Treaty.

It's verging on the childish for a minister or an MP not to bother what's in a treaty which he or she is supporting.

Denis Cooper said...

Redstorm -

"It says after consultation nothing about choosing their candidate"

That passage in the Maastricht Treaty not only said that the EU Parliament had to be consulted, for the first time, it also said:

"The President and the other members of the Commission thus nominated shall be subject as a body to a vote of approval by the European Parliament."

So if MEPs had got themselves as organised then as they have now they could have made it clear that they would not vote to approve a Commission headed by a certain person as President, or a Commission including some other person; they had been freely given that power by the member states then, even though they are only fully exercising it now.

There was a further change through the Amsterdam Treaty, which allowed the EU Parliament to reject just the person who had been nominated for President:

"2. The governments of the Member States shall nominate by common accord the person they intend to appoint as President of the Commission; the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament."

as well as still being able to subsequently reject the proposed Commission as a body.

Then there was another change through the Nice Treaty, which abolished the national veto which Cameron now lacks.

Finally some extra words were inserted by the Lisbon Treaty, "Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament", but they are only being used by MEPs as a pretext to fully exercise a power that they were actually granted over two decades ago.

Patricia Wilkie said...

Who in the EPP elected Juncker as their representative? According to an article in today's Guardian

"Nor was it some sort of "coup" by the European parliament. The vast majority of the delegates who chose between Juncker and Barnier were not MEPs. They included grassroots party members, MPs and members of national governments representing their national parties. There was a lively debate, in public and in private, before the vote. Many of Cameron's colleagues in the European council, including Angela Merkel, were present and voted"


So who from the conservative right got left out?

Hoover said...

I believe Lisbon rather than Maastricht applies these days.