Jean-Claude Juncker, who is on course to become the next president of the European Commission, on Tuesday (8 July) told a meeting of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament that the next European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs and the euro will be a socialist.
Juncker was the nominee of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), which has entered into a grand coalition with the centre-left S&D. The S&D has extracted several concessions from the EPP in exchange for promising to vote in favour of Juncker next week (15 July). The economics portfolio, which for the past five years has been held by Olli Rehn, a Finnish liberal, appears to be part of this deal.
Gianni Pittella, the leader of the S&D group, said that there had been “satisfactory answers” from Juncker at today’s meeting.
Juncker is meeting the Parliament’s political groups over the course of today and tomorrow to seek their backing. The Parliament is to vote on his nomination on 15 July and Juncker needs the support of at least 376 MEPs. He told the S&D that there had been weaknesses on the social side of the EU’s response to the economic crisis while he was head of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers. He said he would make growth a central part of his agenda, something that has been called for by centre-left leaders, notably Italy’s Matteo Renzi.
However, Juncker warned that the rules in the EU’s stability and growth pact would not be significantly loosened. “The stability pact will not become a flexibility pact,” he said.
The distribution of the portfolios to the commissioners is nominally the prerogative of the president of the Commission, albeit after consultation with the national governments. Juncker’s promise of the economics portfolio to the S&D group would rule out the chances of Luis de Guindos, Spain’s finance minister, who comes from the centre-right, though he might yet become president of the Eurogroup. Possible contenders from the centre-left for the economics portfolio would include Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister, and Pierre Moscovici, an ex-finance minister of France.
Juncker received a much less friendly reception at his meeting with the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), which is not supporting his candidacy. The British Conservatives believe that Juncker has a federalist agenda and is not open to reform of the EU.
The meeting, which was also behind closed doors, was a tense affair, according to sources inside the room. Juncker blasted some parts of the British media as “disgusting” and said he had been unfairly vilified in recent weeks. However, he also tried to assuage some of the British concerns, saying that he would not be “a slave to the Parliament”.
In response to a question from British MEP Julie Girling, Juncker confirmed that he would keep the post of chief scientific adviser, which was introduced by the current Commission president José Manuel Barroso.
Juncker ended the day with a web-streamed discussion with the ALDE group. Tomorrow he will meet the Greens and the far-left GUE group, neither of which have yet taken a line on whether to support his nomination, then the centre-right European People’s Party and the Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy.