Saying “support” is no longer enough, now votes are needed to sit on the top position of the European Commission. Jean-Claude Juncker sought them at the European Parliament, where in few days MEPs will decide whether to nominate him as head of the European Union executive branch. Votes were sought especially among Socialist and Liberal allies, asking for precise guarantees on key issues before guaranteeing their support.
The main issue during the hearings is still flexibility. Juncker tried to reassure Socialists after ‘austerity hawks’ shut the door to flexibility (starting from Manfredi Weber, head of the EPP family to which Juncker belongs): “We will use all the available margins on flexibility,” said Juncker during the hearing with S&D: “The Pact shall not be amended but applied with sensitivity. We need flexibility to avoid the European train from derailing.” The former Luxembourg PM, answering a question asked by David Sassoli, get himself away from both Weber(“everyone has their temper”) and from Jens Weidmann, the BundesBank Prensident, who slammed flexibility earlier last week: “He talked as Central Banker. He said he does not agree with me, why should agree with him?” said a lapidary Juncker.
Still, this does not imply austerity is over: “I’m not saying I’m a supporter of austerity, nor that I am against it,” explained Juncker few hours later at the Conservatives hearing, “I just like budget respect. You cannot spend the money you do not have.” A concept reiterated with Liberals too: “I am againste excessive austerity, still I am in favour of fair austerity and if anyone wants me to say austerity is over, wel, he’s making a mistake,” said Juncker, praising the Economic Affairs Commissioner present there. “I want to compliment Olli Rehn, he made an extraordiary work during a periodin which we had seen the abyss.”
During the next term, things could change and Economic Affairs could be a Socialist though, said Juncker during the hearing with S&D. A possibility very palatable to Socialists obviously, as well as the idea of going ‘beyond’ the Troika. “We need to think about the way in which we could legitimise the Troika, making it more democratic,” said Juncker, who criticised the “excessive presence” of the International Monetary Fund, underlining the need for reviewing it.
However, Socialists though these guarantees were not enough. “This is just the starting point of the negotiations, followed by a moment of reflection and by a new meeting with Juncker on Thursday,” said Pittella. “There are satisfactory aspects, but also not-so-satisfactory ones, as the answers we received on immigration, which were not convincing,” explained the head of the S&D group. “A good meeting, but nothing new if compared with the final document of the last European Council,” said a far from enthusiastic Simona Bonafè, who assured that they will be checking “how this availability will be turned into facts.”
Guarantees about the migration issues were asked by several groups, not only Socialists. “We need a European policy,” said Juncker, “the countries managing migration should not be only the most affected ones, it’s not an Italian or Greek issue only.” According to the appointed President, “Frontex has a ridiculous budget” and we need to talk about illegal migration as well as legal migration, we need to establish general principle in force for everyone and harmonising asylum policies. Too vague answers, according to S&D (pushed by the remarkable presence of the Italian Democratic Party delegation) which said the need a more detailed answer on the issue before guaranteeing their support. The S&D decision should be communicated on Monday in Strasbourg, at the eve of the voting session, as per ALDE. Liberals had also asked to reinforce the role of the Parliament: “The feeling we had with Barroso was that the Council was far more important than the Parliament,” highlighted Guy Verhofstadt, “we need to couple the Council and the Parliament instead, they both play a crucial role.” To sum it up, the new Commission “should be brave enough to go against the Member States” if necessary.
The match with Conservatives is no longer in progress instead. After hearing Juncker, they issued as statement: “In spite of some convergences on certain issues, we realised we have different ideas especially about the future direction the Union should pursue. We hope to be wrong, but on the basis of this meeting we cannot give our vote to Juncker next week.”