Open Europe Blog

The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as next European Commission President is often boiled down to a stand-off between David Cameron and Angela Merkel. And it looks increasingly likely that there will be a vote on Juncker as early as at next week’s summit of EU leaders. He is still the favourite to land the job.

However, Juncker’s road to the Berlaymont building is unlikely to be incident-free, and a degree of unpredictability remains.

Over the past few days, France and Italy have made clear that their support for any candidate to the European Commission Presidency is tied to a substantial change in EU economic policies. French Europe Minister Harlem Désir held talks with his Italian counterpart Sandro Gozi in Paris yesterday, to refine a common strategy. Furthermore, France will host a mini-summit of the seven centre-left EU heads of state and government tomorrow, to discuss their priorities for the new European Commission.

The proposal Paris and Rome have been working on is clear: growth-enhancing investments and the cost of structural reforms should no longer count as deficit under EU rules. Merkel has so far resisted the proposal, but Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel – of the SPD – has come out in support of giving more budget leeway to countries that undertake a wide-reaching reform process.

Unlike Cameron, neither French President François Hollande nor Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi seem to have a personality problem with Juncker. Nor have they openly criticised the principle of Spitzenkandidaten. But there is a chance they could end up on the same side of the debate, although for different reasons.

There are many factors at play here. But if Hollande and Renzi push it too far and make it clear that the price of their support for Juncker is a weakening of the eurozone’s fiscal rules, they could provide Merkel with an excuse to drop Juncker, sacrificed on the altar of German budget discipline. That would make such a decision more acceptable to the German public, surely?

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