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News Analysis: Defeat for Cameron, problems remain for Merkel

English.news.cn   2014-06-28 03:08:33

 
 Filed photo taken on May 25, 2014 shows Jean-Claude Juncker speaks at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium. European Union (EU) leaders decided on Friday to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker as next European Commission president at the summit held Friday in Brussels. (Xinhua/Gong Bing)

 

by Neil Madden

STRASBOURG, June 27 (Xinhua) -- As was widely predicted, British Prime Minister David Cameron lost his battle on Friday to block the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission (EC).

Former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Juncker was backed by 26 of the EU's 28 heads of government at the meeting of the European Council, with just Cameron and Hungary's Viktor Orban voting against the nomination.

The fact that a vote was held at all is unprecedented. In the past the nomination has been made without the process.

Speaking to media after the vote, Cameron sounded exasperated, but determined to fight on for reform of the European Union (EU).

"Let me be absolutely clear this is a bad day for Europe. It risks undermining the powers of national governments and national parliaments, and hands new power to the European Parliament (EP)."

However, he added he will continue to fight for British interests and for reform of the EU.

"Sometimes you have to lose a battle to win a war. Britain will continue to fight with intensity and grit for reform of the EU," he commented.

Juncker now has to be approved by an absolute majority in the EP in a plenary session held in mid-July. The same week the European Council will meet again to discuss who gets the different Commissioner jobs within the EC.

The implications for Cameron and Britain are serious. The British Prime Minister conceded that keeping Britain in the EU "has got harder".

The country faces a general election next year, and if Cameron's Conservative Party is re-elected, he has promised a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU in 2017.

Most recently, opinion polls have indicated a slim majority in favor of remaining part of the Union, but the picture changes often and is too close to call either way for certain.

If Cameron now looks friendless, the day's events could also pose future problems for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Her support for Juncker since the EP elections in May has been more lukewarm acceptance of the process rather than outright backing for him as the right candidate. This is partly because Juncker was put forward by the European People's Party (EPP), which is dominated by her own political grouping in the EP.

But this is complicated by the fact that her coalition government depends on the support of the German Social Democrats which sits in the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) alliance in the EP.

Ever since the S&D - which this week endorsed Merkel's compatriot Martin Schulz as their candidate for president of the EP - came out publicly in favor of Juncker as the candidate of the largest parliament grouping Merkel has felt compelled to accept the Luxembourger's nomination.

Her task now will be to persuade her fellow heads of state to ensure the composition of the EC includes commissioners who are more likely to support her aims of cutting bureaucracy and pushing for a more competitive Europe, including extending the Single Market to wider areas of the economy.

Merkel is also no unconditional friend of the EP. She does not relish the prospect of a more confident parliament pushing for a relaxation of budgetary discipline.

This week the S&D group issued a statement setting out its conditions for supporting Juncker as the new EC President. Predictably, the centre left wants a relaxation of the fiscal rules contained in the Eurozone's stability and growth pact (SGP), in other words more public spending as a way out of the austerity policies of recent years.

The German Chancellor's government and like-minded fiscal conservatives in other, mainly northern European countries, will be loath to see those rules relaxed given the risk of once more destabilizing the common currency.

In fact, Merkel made the point of telling the media after the election that cutting red tape must remain in the new agenda of the EC, and that the SGP "remains valid and contains sufficient flexibility for promoting economic growth."

In what could be read as clear signal, not just to the S&D, but also the leaders of Europe's southern countries who want a more relaxed fiscal stance for the Eurozone, the German Chancellor was firm that "structural reforms are the necessary condition for stimulating growth."

Merkel will also need to stitch together a coalition when it comes to voting on the proposed transatlantic free trade deal currently being negotiated between the EU and the U.S. government.

Already a formidable block against the agreement looks possible with protectionists from the far-left and far-right lining up with the Greens and even a number of centrist MEPs.

These are exactly the sorts of battles in which Merkel has counted on Britain as an ally, and the reasons why she wants Britain to remain in the EU.

Related:

Juncker nominated for European Commission President by EU leaders

BRUSSELS, June 27 (Xinhua) -- European Union (EU) leaders decided on Friday to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker as next European Commission president at the summit held Friday in Brussels.

The president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy said on his official twitter: "Decision made. The European Council proposes Jean-Claude Juncker as the next President of the European Commission."    Full story

Editor: Liu
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