Commission President – Juncker’s to lose?

Recent comments in the press are indicating a narrowing of odds for Jean Claude Juncker to become the next EU Commission President. As the EPP candidate for Commission President Mr. Juncker has not ventured far down the voter promises list other than describing the challenges that have to be faced by the new European Commission. You can always tell this by the fact that the only distinct differences between the two main candidates in the debate, Mr. Juncker and Mr. Schulz of the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) party, have been caricatures of their previous actions, not future promises.

Why Juncker?

However, there is a slow momentum building up behind the candidacy of Mr. Juncker. First, there is a widening gap in the polls between centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D. A few days ago, polls showed a gap as little as three MEPs between the two parties, but current results put the gap closer to 26 (212-186).  It would be hard to argue that such a victory is not definitive, although certainly not convincing. However, bear in mind that this is assuming each of the national political parties and any news ones can be convinced to stay or join the EPP. EPP leaders will undoubtedly be working the phones today to convince their colleagues to stay or join the EPP.

Second, many pundits have noted the almost eerie similarities between the remarks and Mr. Juncker and Mr. Schulz, especially in debates. It’s as if, on many issues, they are speaking for the same party. Some have attributed this to the federal outlook of the two political groups. However, the EP has one major weapon in its toolbox for the Commission Presidency selection – an absolute majority of 376 MEPs must approve the next Commission President. Mr. Schulz has made it abundantly clear that the Commission President must come from the EP candidates, regardless of whether it is him or not. This wafer thin differences between the EPP and S&D rhetoric from the candidates plus the strong desire of Mr. Schulz to bind the EP behind one candidate puts Mr. Juncker in a good position. Either the Council can bash its head against the voting bloc of the European Parliament, or get in line behind Mr. Juncker. This seems to be message coming out of the EP candidates’ camp.

The impact of the Council

Which brings us to the Council. Few remember how much stock Chancellor Merkel put into selecting the candidate for the EPP, the home of her Christian Democrat Party (CDU). And that candidate was who? Mr. Juncker. Of the 28 Member States of the Council, 12 of them have EPP governments with three of the largest six Member States being from EPP political parties – Germany (CDU), Spain (PP) and Poland (PO). Even Mr. Cameron may come to accept Mr. Juncker despite the “federalist” tag he has been given in Britain. France might be reluctant but given the choice between the preferred outside candidate Christine Lagarde, and Mr. Juncker, would President Hollande be willing to vote for a former Sarkozy Minister?

Finally, and this could be just as important, Mr. Juncker is a known entity in the Council. Until last year he was the perennial representative from Luxembourg at both Prime Ministerial and Finance Ministerial level. He comes from Luxembourg, hardly a divisive choice in terms of nationality. He knows every single one of those government leaders sitting at the table. Such a personal touch cannot be discounted. Many may say he was nothing more than the front man for decisions made by others – but surely this is what the Council wants. A heavyweight outsider may be quite a different proposition.