EP OKs Juncker as Commission chief
The ‘Spitzenkandidat’ of the centre-right EPP group Jean-Claude Juncker was elected on Tuesday to lead the European Commission from November 1, with a massive vote from MEPs, with the Socialists and the Liberals praising the many openings he made in his election speech towards their own political priorities. The European Parliament confirmed Juncker as Commission President by 422 votes in favour out of 729. He needed at least 376. In all, 250 MEPs voted against, 47 abstained and ten votes were considered invalid.
Under the Spitzenkandidat system, used for the first time this year, the top candidate of the most popular party after the EU elections on May 22-25 - in this case Juncker of the centre-right EPP - was nominated for the post.
It represents a stretching of the wording in the EU treaty, which only binds EU leaders to take election results into account.
In his speech preceding the vote, Juncker himself said he had tried to be “as ecumenical as possible” by presenting to the European Parliament his project for priorities of the new Commission for the next five years.
In particular, the group of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) praised the fact that he put a figure on his plan to boost the EU’s economy and create jobs.
Juncker said that within the first three months of his mandate, he would present “a Jobs, Growth and Investment Package” to generate an extra 300 bln euros in investment over the next three years, a statement saluted by S&D leader Gianni Pittella. Throughout his speech, Juncker, who had previously been part of the decision-making addressing the Eurozone crisis, appeared self-critical and a proponent of a more sociallyoriented approach to the effort to impose austerity on overspending economies.
He said that the rescue of the euro “was necessary, but was weak on the social side”.
“It is unacceptable to me that workers and retired people had to shoulder the burden of structural reform programmes, while ship owners and financial speculators became even richer. In the future, we need a more democratically legitimate replacement for the Troika, and thorough social impact assessments for any new support programmes,” he said, applauded by the Socialist MEPs.
Without mentioning Russia, the Commission President-elect also signalled his intention to make sure that energy not be used as a political tool, and that the energy dependence of several member states would be reduced.
“It’s time Europe stood tall on its own feet, pooling our resources, combining infrastructures, and uniting our negotiating power,” he said. Juncker also paid tribute to Ukraine, calling this country European and saying that it has its place in Europe. So far, the EU has been shy in adding the adjective “European” to its relation with Ukraine, out of fear that a promise of future EU membership might become too burdensome for the Union. Some of the statements by Juncker could be interpreted as signals to London that he too would push for a less bureaucratic Union.
“SMEs are the backbone of our economies, creating 85% of new jobs in Europe – we can’t bury them in paperwork. We must unshackle them from burdensome regulation,” Juncker said, adding that he wanted to work for a Union “that is not meddlesome, but works for its citizens, rather than against them”.
He also drew applause by advocating for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), while at the same time saying this goal would not be pursued at any price. “I want a reasonable and balanced trade agreement with the US. But I will not sacrifice Europe’s safety, health, social and data protection standards, or our cultural diversity, on the altar of free trade,” Juncker said. He also said that without transparency, TTIP was doomed, and appealed for the most relevant texts concerning the negotiations to be published. He also said he would make sure that the EU lobbyist register
European Commission President-designate Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday that he would work towards the introduction of a minimum social wage in each member state of the EU.
Addressing the European Parliament before a vote to confirm his appointment, Juncker announced, “All countries in the European Union, we set in place a minimum social wage, a minimum income, a guaranteed minimum income.”
He had previously said he favoured each EU country setting a minimum wage as a proportion of its own median income, which varies widely between Luxembourg at the top, and Romania and Bulgaria at the bottom. In comments designed to win over centre-left MEPs, the centre-right former Luxembourg prime minister also vowed to protect public services in Europe from what he called “the whims of the age” - an apparent reference to privatisation and restrictions on state aid. France has long spearheaded the campaign for the introduction of a European minimum wage. In a report called “Methods for the introduction of would become mandatory.
On immigration policy, on the one hand, Juncker said he would defend the principle of free movement of workers inside the EU, which he called an opportunity, and not a threat. Regarding immigration from third countries, he said he would step up cooperation with them to deal with irregular migration more robustly, while promoting “a new European policy on legal migration to put Europe on the map as a favourite destination for talent”.
Juncker also revealed some of his plans for the future architecture of the Union. He said that his firm conviction was that all EU countries should not move forward necessarily at the same speed. He also said that he was in favour of a separate budget for the Eurozone countries.
Regarding future Commissioners appointments, Juncker said he would put in charge a commissioner responsible for EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. He also said he would seek gender balance in the EU executive.
Regarding enlargement, Juncker said that no new countries were expected to join the Union over the next five years, but that ongoing accession negotiations would continue. He also said that Europe should be proud of its reunification, and that it was time to stop calling countries “old” and “new” members.
Juncker also paid tribute to veteran politician Jacques Delors, widely seen as the most visionary EU leader. Delors served as Commission president from 1985 to 1994 and is seen as a champion of the community method, in contrast of the traditional inter-governmental method.
In his speech, which he delivered in French, German and English, Juncker also praised French President Francois Mitterrand (1981-1995) and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998) for their contribution to the EU project. Juncker received support from his own EPP group, from S&D, from the liberal ALDE group, and from the Greens. However, except from his own group, all speakers said the support should not be seen as a “blank cheque”.
Conversely, the conservative ECR group, the leftist GUE/NGL group, as well as Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP and Martine Le Pen, leader of French National Front, said they would vote against him. Le Pen was more violent in her attacks, and Juncker drew applause by saying he was happy that she would not vote for him, as he didn’t want any approval from “those who exclude”.
The news and policy site EurActiv said that the highly laudatory speech by Gianni Pittella, an Italian politician from the political force of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, could be interpreted as a sign that a deal was already struck to appoint Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as EU foreign affairs chief. EU leaders meet in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss on the successors of the present incumbent Catherine Ashton, as well as of the successor to Council President Herman van Rompuy.
Juncker will now send official letters to the member states’ leaders, inviting them to propose their candidate members of the Commission. European norms for a minimum wage,” the Treasury’s General Directorate, which works under the Economic Ministry, put forward several proposals on how this could be achieved.
Out of the 28 EU member states, only seven do not have a legal minimum wage: Cyprus, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden. In Germany, an agreement has been reached between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party and the Socialist Party (SPD).
Minimum wages in the EU vary considerably, the French report noted. These differences are linked to disparities in quality of life and productivity between the countries of the European Union. In Western European countries, the minimum monthly salaries in 2014 are approximately 1,200 euros gross. In the southern countries, it varies between 600 and 800 euros, whereas in Eastern Europe, the figure is closer to 400 euros. At the moment, it is not possible for European legislation to intervene in matters of salary. Paragraph 5 of article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) prohibits the EU from adopting legislation on pay.