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Monday, June 16, 2014

Is the UK gearing up for a defeat on Spitzenkandidaten?

Our views on the Spitzenkandidaten should, by now, be clear. And just for the record, this goes back to our opposition to the Lisbon Treaty, which was the wrong Treaty at the wrong time, answering the wrong questions. So, again, forget Cameron; it's about principle, precedent and best democratic practice.

However, several stories and reports – including one in Le Monde this morning and Bruno Waterfield's piece in the Telegraph – suggest that Angela Merkel has instructed Herman Van Rompuy to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker as the new European Commission President at the next summit of EU leaders. This means that the issue could be put to a vote as early as 26th June. Remember this is decided by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) meaning the UK doesn’t have a veto. At the moment, it’s unclear whether there’s a blocking minority to stop Junker.

This means that there’s a real risk of David Cameron being outvoted on a matter he has absolutely gone to war over.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Cameron’s tactics, such an outcome will go down like a lead balloon domestically. Many will say “You want to negotiate sweeping reform in Europe and yet you can’t even stop a super-federalist from becoming Commission President.” It’ll also fuel mistrust between London and Berlin. It would be a tragedy if the two capitals were to fall out over a former Luxembourgish PM and an ambiguity within in a misdirected Treaty before substantial EU reform even makes it onto the agenda. Who are the winners? Well, Juncker for a start. The German SPD who have used this to corner Merkel at home. The minority cult of transnational democracy within the EU - where the European Parliament is the ultimate source of democratic decision making (many clever and sincere people support this concept, but it is a minority cult nonetheless).

Is the UK quietly preparing for defeat? Well, this is still very much an open race. The UK will probably vote against Juncker no matter what. However, it could now also be looking for deals. As we noted several weeks ago, anything short of the internal market portfolio in the next European Commission, and possibly some wider commitment to European reform, will likely fall short of what many in the UK will demand.

There’s a second question. The UK is doing everything to stop the principle of ‘Spitzenkandidaten’. This could mean ending up with someone London wouldn't normally have accepted, like Michel Barnier or someone similar.

If the UK manages to block Juncker, for example by moving him to European Council President instead and then getting Barnier instead, it still won’t look good despite the huge expansion of political capital. For Cameron, the next European Council between 26-27 June is shaping up to be the most important such gathering since the 2011 Council when he vetoed the Fiscal Treaty – if not more significant.

We told you it would be messy…


Jesper said...

If the UK can be outvoted then the smaller nations might need to be concerned.....

Kind of cool to see an elected person opting for what has long been argued to be an administrative position. Is it no longer a civil servant job but something to be elected to? When did that change?

Since it can (weakly) be claimed to be elected is the role of commissioner freer now?

Average Englishman said...

@ Jesper: "If the UK can be outvoted then the smaller nations might need to be concerned....."

That Jesper is as substantial an understatement as one is ever likely to see on a blog.

As for Juncker, well, all too predictable. Angela Merkel speaks as a good European but in truth, it's always the domestic German market she is looking out for when 'the chips are down' and why not, she is after all the Chancellor of Germany? It is as times like these that the smog blows away and people can see what the EU is really all about. That is, not how it would like to be portayed, as just a bunch of European chums working out how best to trade with each other and work for a better world but a continuing power game with so far, one main winner.

Peter van Leeuwen said...

In some circles Juncker has been described as a 'fixer'. He may may yet be able to organise for the UK the special status or relationship that it claims to need, short of it leaving the EU all together.

Rollo said...

A defeat for Cameron is a victory. He goes on and on with his untrue assertion that he is going to renegotiate our EU membership, even though he knows there is no forum for negotiation and no counter to Acquis Communautaires. Having Merkel flatten him in this humiliating way may help the rest of us in the UK see sense.

Average Englishman said...

@Peter van Leeuwen.
Some serious wishful thinking there Peter I fear.

The UK wants what its people voted for in 1975 and no more. That is: access to a Common European Market only, without all the 'ever closer union' garbage, EU Arrest Warrant, open borders, mountains of red tape and all. Juncker will go for that at the same time he fixes the Euro crisis, settles the Israeli Palestinian argument and generally organizes world peace. Dream on Peter, dream on..........

un said...

You describe those who support the European Parliament as the proper source of democratic legitimacy as "a minority cult". However if the European Council backs Junker and Spitzenkandidaten they would seem to be accepting the principle and agreeing with the EP

Denis Cooper said...

It's a fine mess.

Blair pushed through the amending Nice Treaty which inter alia abolished the national veto over the nomination of the President of the EU Commission.

Then Brown pushed through Merkel's amending Lisbon Treaty which said inter alia that henceforth the nomination should be made "taking into account the elections to the European Parliament, the treaty change cited by those MEPs who came up with the idea of Spitzenkandidaten and who now claim that Juncker must be nominated.

Having announced on November 4th 2009 that he would swallow the Lisbon Treaty whole as a fait accompli, it's a bit late for Cameron to say that he won't accept this.

Jesper said...

Not sure if I'd say that political capital has been spent.

What has happened is that forces has been drawn out into the open. It is sometimes necessary to draw out the opposition by losing an unimportant small fight.
And I'm not sure if the fight even has been lost yet.

The EP arguing for a closed ballot as being open and transparent? :-D

The treaty that was rejected by popular referendum in France and Netherlands is the source of the weak legal argument but can it really be the source of the popular argument since it was rejected?
Democratic legitimacy indeed :-D

It is a naked power grab, people engaging in power grab are interested in getting power. Only surprising thing is that their hunger for power is so public.

Peter van Leeuwen said...

@Average Englishman said...
Do you really speak for the UK???
Then why did you vote for a 1957 treaty in 1975, which spelled out "ever closer union"? Plus all these following treaties . . . Your problems (misleading information etc.) are really homegrown, not to be blamed on the EU. I'm sorry for the UK mountains of misinformation concerning the EU, which may well lead you to leave it.