EU’s Juncker defends vision in leadership row

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says he will not seek a second term after 2019 elections
AFP

Brussels (AFP) – European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday staunchly defended his federalist vision for how top EU officials should be chosen in Europe, risking a row with France’s Emmanuel Macron.

The race to succeed Juncker as head of the first post-Brexit European Commission begins later this month — with deep divisions on the process for picking his successor.

Juncker was picked after European elections in 2014 by a controversial “Spitzenkandidat” system — German for “lead candidate” — under which the political group with the most votes gets to nominate its candidate for the job.

“We agreed this morning, that this system was completely logical,” Juncker told a press conference in Brussels after talks among the EU’s 28 commissioners on the issue.

“When you go to the voting booth, you know who will be the head of the commission,” he added.

Macron and several other national leaders, who will discuss the matter at a Brussels summit on February 23, oppose the method.

They see it as a stitch-up by Brussels insiders that robs countries of their power to pick who will fill one of the continent’s most influential roles.

“Europe would gain from a political revamp… which is both possible and desireable if we want to give a clear mandate to the commission,” Macron told reporters in Paris on Tuesday.

Macron also slammed the EU establishment as ideologically incoherent, with “fundamental differences” within the same political groupings.

European Council President Donald Tusk is expected to lay out options at the leaders’ summit, including whether to continue with the Spitzenkandidat system.

Not surprisingly, MEPs last week overwhelmingly approved the Spitzenkandidat system in a vote in parliament.

They also voted against a Macron-inspired plan for so-called “transnational lists” — which would allow 30 of the 73 seats vacated by Britain to be elected on pan-European tickets.

Macron had strongly backed the idea as part of his ambition for a sweeping reboot of the EU.

Juncker has said he is not seeking a second term in the job when his term expires after European elections in June 2019.

The EU’s French Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, a political star in Brussels but little known elsewhere, is the rumoured early front runner to take over in 2019.

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