EP OKs Juncker as Com­mis­sion chief

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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