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News Analysis: Real work starts for Juncker

English.news.cn   2014-07-16 06:18:41

By Neil Madden

STRASBOURG, July 15 (Xinhua) -- As expected former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has been voted President of the European Commission (EC).

In a vote in the European Parliament (EP) on Tuesday Juncker won 422 votes with 250 against.

So what lies ahead for the European Union (EU)'s top civil servant? In the immediate future the biggest challenge is negotiating who gets what among the other posts in the new college of EU commissioners. Each college comprises 28 commissioners, one for each member state. One of these (Juncker) is the president, so the task is to fill the remaining 27 jobs.

These are decided by member state governments, but the task is also a balancing act in which the leading political blocks in the EP will expect their pound of flesh in return for supporting Juncker's nomination. The EC president has to put together his team over the summer with the applicants scrutinized in individual meetings with the EP in September.

The problem is that while the view from outside might be that centre-right and centre-left share a cozy common view of the world, in reality there are sharp divisions between the two major blocks in the EP over how to re-energize Europe's stumbling economy; divisions further complicated by geography.

On one issue - closer monetary and banking union - there is a broad consensus between the countries of the eurozone. The trauma of the euro debt crisis is still fresh in the minds of the countries involved, whether as principal victims in Europe's southern periphery, or as rescuers, like Germany.

But away from finance the remedies for bringing the continent back to prosperity differ widely. The centre-right - and generally Northern European countries - want the next Commission to push for greater implementation of the Single Market rules in diverse areas, such as digital technology, transport, insurance and utilities, that have until now been subject to varying degrees of national coddling.

The centre-left, and with it many southern European governments, even some centre-right ones, want relaxations in eurozone debt rules to lighten the burden of austerity measures on their fragile economies. Spain and Greece, two of the hardest hit countries, still have unemployment rates of 25 percent and 26 percent respectively.

But fiscal conservatives in centre-right northern countries simply do not trust their southern counterparts with higher debt levels, fearing that without significant reforms to their economies, particularly their labor and product markets, any increase in government spending will be largely wasted.

Juncker's first task will be to find a path through these conflicting interests. He is an arch deal-maker and so should not be daunted by this task. The appointment of commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs will be the key. Last week, Juncker promised that this post will go to a centre-left candidate in return for his support by the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group in the EP.

The current front runners are thought to be France's former finance minister Pierre Moscovici or Jeroen Dijsselbloem, of the Netherlands.

But other commission posts can have just as much influence of the future direction of the EU economy, notably those of competition, the internal market and trade. A special meeting of the European Council takes place in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the nominations of commissioners as well as a new president of the European Council to replace the outgoing Herman van Rompuy.

This time around the issue is compounded by calls for a more representative number of women in the top jobs. The previous college of commissioners had just nine female bosses and Juncker has already been implored to appoint at least 10 women in the next college. However, the nominations so far by member governments are overwhelmingly male.

Of course, keeping Britain in the EU has the potential to be one of the most explosive issues of the next few years. The very public campaign by British Prime Minster David Cameron against Juncker's nomination as EC President could have ramifications for the EC post awarded to the EU's most reluctant member state.

In the past weeks, Juncker has been making statements about listening to the concerns of Britain, promising that if agreement can be reached with other governments on certain issues then Britain could get some of the concessions it wants.

However, this will not include free movement of labor, one of the hottest potatoes in current British dissolution with the EU. A key argument to which Britain seems to have no credible response is that if economically liberal countries, like Britain, want free access to the EU single market for businesses then they have to accept that the same principle applies to labor, and Juncker will affirm this very point during his negotiations with Cameron.

Wider issues will also pose challenges for the EC. The next five years see the end of Europe's '2020 goals' which set targets on issues like employment, climate change and social exclusion. This will force the EU executive to draft a new roadmap for the union's future and the design of that roadmap will be critical as to how the entire EU project is viewed from national capitals and by ordinary citizens.

Last week the bosses of two of Europe's largest carmakers - Fiat-Chrysler and Ford - both called for a drastic rethink of how legislation affecting business and trade across the EU is drawn up.

Europe as a whole faces a serious battle over global competitiveness. An EC forecast has shown that not one EU country will be among the world's eight biggest economies by 2050, if the current shift in economic power is maintained.

Editor: Mu Xuequan
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