Large member states stand in the way of Jean-Claude Juncker as first President of the European Council

In Lux­em­bourg, most politi­cians, as well as pub­lic opin­ion, were hap­py with Her­man Van Rompuy’s nom­i­na­tion as Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter. He seemed to be the right man in the right place, able to give this neigh­bour­ing coun­try the prospect of find­ing a viable com­pro­mise on how Wal­loons and Flem­ings could con­tin­ue liv­ing togeth­er in peace and mutu­al understanding.

In the eyes of the Lux­em­bour­gish com­mu­ni­ty, the nat­ur­al can­di­date for the post of Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil could not have been any­body oth­er than Jean-Claude Junck­er. How­ev­er, in the weeks pre­ced­ing the deci­sive Brus­sels Coun­cil, the inter­na­tion­al press revealed rumours and spec­u­la­tion announc­ing that Junck­er would not be the first Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil. Dur­ing the deci­sive Brus­sels Sum­mit in Decem­ber 2009, Jean-Claude Junck­er could have asked for a vote because “a large major­i­ty of del­e­ga­tions were ready to sup­port my can­di­da­cy.”11Jean-Claude Junck­er: Je ne veux pas porter les cha­peau du désac­cord fran­co-alle­mand, Les Echos, 27 Jan­u­ary 2010. One major mem­ber state, how­ev­er, was not keen to sup­port him, but “my friend Van Rompuy did not meet any oppo­si­tion at all.”22Ibid. Thus, in order not to risk a split in the Union because of his per­son, he decid­ed to with­draw his can­di­da­cy and sup­port his friend Van Rompuy. These rather sad events “left a bad sou­venir, but no bit­ter­ness,”33Ibid. accord­ing to the Lux­em­bour­gish Prime Minister.

The Lux­em­bour­gish press con­demned the way this mat­ter was han­dled: they were par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­ap­point­ed by the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of big­ger coun­tries, espe­cial­ly by the French Pres­i­dent, Nico­las Sarkozy. Sarkozy, who had de fac­to vetoed the nom­i­na­tion of Junck­er, lost his last sym­pa­thies in the small neigh­bour­ing coun­try. In the eyes of the Elysée, Junck­er did not react appro­pri­ate­ly dur­ing the finan­cial cri­sis as Pres­i­dent of the Euro group. Guy Kemp asked in the pro-social­ist par­ty news­pa­per Tage­blatt: “Where was Angela Merkel?”44Guy Kemp: Mit­telmäßige Ansprüche, Tage­blatt, 3 Decem­ber 2009. Again, the “big coun­tries” manoeu­vred a small one out. Daniel Cohn-Ben­dit, the Euro­pean Parliament’s Green leader and an out­spo­ken Junck­er fan, called “the deci­sion his­tor­i­cal­ly inad­e­quate”55Ibid. and was applaud­ed from Lux­em­bourg. Was Junck­er not allowed to become the first Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil because he likes to reveal uncom­fort­able facts in pub­lic and does not refrain from crit­i­cis­ing politi­cians from big­ger nations?

Jean-Claude Junck­er wants to give Van Rompuy a fair chance. In Juncker’s opin­ion, he is “a Euro­pean by con­vic­tion: he knows the mech­a­nisms of the Union by heart. He has great capac­i­ty to lis­ten to dif­fer­ent points of view.”66Jean-Claude Junck­er: Je ne veux pas porter le cha­peau du désac­cord fran­co-alle­mand, Les Echos, 27 Jan­u­ary 2010. Junck­er warns those “who pre­dict that Van Rompuy could be eas­i­ly manip­u­lat­ed like a pup­pet on a string.”77Ibid. Are these com­pli­ments made by cour­tesy, by per­son­al friend­ship or by sim­ple polit­i­cal calculation?

Mar­cel Kief­fer, a polit­i­cal ana­lyst of the con­ser­v­a­tive Lux­em­burg­er Wort, has nei­ther high expec­ta­tions of Her­man Van Rompuy nor of Cather­ine Ash­ton. He still believes that the main impuls­es in the future will come from the rotat­ing nation­al pres­i­den­cies, even if their role was changed by the Lis­bon Treaty.88Mar­cel Kief­fer: Erste Früchte, Lux­em­burg­er Wort, 13 Decem­ber 2009. He advis­es the Span­ish Pres­i­den­cy to work close­ly with Van Rompuy in the imple­men­ta­tion of the Lis­bon Strat­e­gy and its fol­low-up programme.

Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, the polit­i­cal ana­lysts from Lux­em­bourg are keen to know what the real influ­ence of Van Rompuy on day-to-day EU pol­i­tics will be. There is a gen­er­al fear that the influ­ence of the small­er mem­ber states might be even more restrict­ed, espe­cial­ly if the tra­di­tion­al Schu­man method (méth­ode com­mu­nau­taire) is not applied in its clas­si­cal way.

A jour­nal­ist could not help con­fronting Van Rompuy with the omi­nous “Euro­pean tele­phone ques­tion” at a press con­fer­ence in Lux­em­bourg City. Van Rompuy refused to answer, as he did not want to “fall into a trap built up by the media.”99Bertrand Slezak: Tout le monde rac­croche, Le Quo­ti­di­en, 5 Feb­ru­ary 2010. Dur­ing his short vis­it to Lux­em­bourg, he under­lined that he “was the EU rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the inter­na­tion­al floor,” even con­cern­ing the “secu­ri­ty and defence”1010Ibid. mat­ter “[i]sn’t this (Cather­ine Ashton’s) job?”1111Ibid. This led the Lux­em­bour­gish press to ask the inevitable ques­tion, as was done by Danièle Fon­ck, who is work­ing for the inde­pen­dent week­ly Le Jeu­di: “Who is in charge?”1212Danièle Fon­ck: Mais qui est cen­sé diriger l’Europe?, Le Jeu­di, 4 Feb­ru­ary 2010. “What are Mrs Ashton’s duties and respon­si­bil­i­ties?”1313Ibid.

The Lux­em­bour­gish media were not hap­py with Van Rompuy’s silence when the Greek prob­lem was dis­cussed at the Brus­sels Feb­ru­ary 2010 Sum­mit. The “Bel­gian on the imag­i­nary throne was too dis­crete when the Greek cri­sis was on top of the agen­da.”1414Har­mut Haus­mann: Griechen­land und die Kon­se­quen­zen, Jour­nal, 7 May 2010.

Most recent­ly, Van Rompuy nev­er­the­less received some applause in Lux­em­bourg when he refused Merkel’s idea to with­draw vot­ing rights from Euro coun­tries which do not respect the pub­lic debt cri­te­ria.1515Ibid. As head of the task force, he might, accord­ing to a Lux­em­bour­gish diplo­mat, cre­ate a fait accom­pli by elab­o­rat­ing a reform pro­gram to be ready in Octo­ber 2010.1616Mar­i­anne Truttmann: Gipfel der Eurostaat­en, Lux­em­burg­er Wort, 8 May 2010.

Junck­er agrees that the fathers of the Lis­bon Treaty – him being one of them – have “for­got­ten to speak of the cohab­i­ta­tion prob­lems cre­at­ed by the treaty.”1717Jean-Claude Junck­er: Je ne veux pas porter le cha­peau du désac­cord fran­co-alle­mand, Les Echos, 27 Jan­u­ary 2010.

The Com­mis­sion still has the exclu­sive right to make prepa­ra­tions for the Coun­cil. The Pres­i­dent will make the tra­di­tion­al ral­ly of the cap­i­tals. “The chore­og­ra­phy must be good, espe­cial­ly under the Span­ish Pres­i­den­cy”, Junck­er says.1818Ibid.

Rotat­ing pres­i­den­cies are more impor­tant for small­er- and medi­um-sized mem­ber states than for the big­ger ones. Before the Lis­bon Treaty was insti­tu­tion­alised, the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy was a real show­case for these coun­tries. They were able to play, for at least one semes­ter, the most impor­tant role on the inter­na­tion­al and Euro­pean diplo­mat­ic floor. But these coun­tries – espe­cial­ly Lux­em­bourg – are also well aware of the dis­ad­van­tages of the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy: for the Lux­em­bour­gish nation­al admin­is­tra­tion, rotat­ing pres­i­den­cies had always been a major tour de force. For the extra-Euro­pean part­ners of the EU, the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cies were always con­fus­ing. Nev­er­the­less, the Lux­em­bour­gish gov­ern­ment and pub­lic opin­ion believe that the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cies will con­tin­ue to play a role in Euro­pean pol­i­tics, espe­cial­ly when the coun­try in charge has a strong Euro­pean spirit.

As a mat­ter of fact, Lux­em­bourg has always been and con­tin­ues being a very strong sup­port­er of the Euro­pean for­eign affairs and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. On the day of Cather­ine Ashton’s des­ig­na­tion, the first ques­tion which came to mind, in Lux­em­bourg as well as in many oth­er mem­ber states, was: “Cather­ine who?” “I don’t pro­nounce myself on Ash­ton as I don’t know her”,1919Ibid. Jean-Claude Junck­er said.

In fact, Cather­ine Ash­ton has to cope with the com­mis­sion­ers who are already in charge of dif­fer­ent aspects of com­mon for­eign pol­i­cy. How is she going to find her place?2020Hart­mut Haus­mann: In einem Boot, Jour­nal, 10 Decem­ber 2009.

More crit­i­cal observers mind the unclear def­i­n­i­tion of her respon­si­bil­i­ties at the top of a new big admin­is­tra­tion.2121Bertrand Selezak: On n’y voit pas plus clair, Le Quo­ti­di­en, 10 March 2010. The for­mer Lux­em­bour­gish For­eign Affairs Sec­re­tary Paul Helminger, a lib­er­al oppo­si­tion Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP), tries to explain why, in his eyes, a British woman was cho­sen: “The Unit­ed King­dom nev­er real­ly want­ed a Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy as long as it was not iden­ti­cal with its own for­eign pol­i­cy. By appoint­ing an Eng­lish­woman to this post, the Euro­pean deci­sion mak­ers aban­doned the imple­men­ta­tion of such a pol­i­cy.”2222Paul Helminger in an inter­view with the author on 2 Decem­ber 2009. The polit­i­cal ana­lyst from Tage­blatt had the same point of view: “Cather­ine Ash­ton is not the con­vinced Euro­pean she pre­tend­ed to be when she was con­fronting the Mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEPs) respon­si­ble for her con­fir­ma­tion as High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. She says she would pre­fer ‘silent diplo­ma­cy’; could that mean ‘no diplo­ma­cy at all’?”2323Guy Kemp: Mit­telmäßige Ansprüche, Tage­blatt, 3 Decem­ber 2009.

The def­i­n­i­tion and imple­men­ta­tion of a Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy has been one of the cor­ner­stones of Lux­em­bour­gish Euro­pean pol­i­cy since the sev­en­ties. Apart from the tiny Com­mu­nist Par­ty, no seri­ous polit­i­cal or social rel­e­vant group in Lux­em­bourg ever opposed a Euro­pean for­eign and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy. How­ev­er, the “Pro­pos­al for a Coun­cil Deci­sion estab­lish­ing the organ­i­sa­tion and func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice” could not pass with­out cre­at­ing some fears. Lux­em­bourg, as well as some oth­er small­er mem­ber states, is afraid that this new organ­i­sa­tion might exclude them from major deci­sion mak­ing. The Lux­em­bour­gish MPs and polit­i­cal ana­lysts pre­fer the tra­di­tion­al “Schu­man method.”2424Guy Kemp: Klarheit schaf­fen, Tage­blatt, 30 Decem­ber 2009.

The Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive (ECI) was explained to the Lux­em­bour­gish pub­lic by the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs on Europaforum.lu.2525Europafo­rum: L’initiative citoyen­neté européenne donne aux citoyens de nou­velles pos­si­bil­ités d’influer sur les poli­tiques européennes, 31 March 2010. Luxembourg’s Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­er Viviane Red­ing, respon­si­ble for Jus­tice and Civ­il Rights, made clear that not just any sub­ject could be intro­duced by Euro­pean cit­i­zens. She gave the exam­ple of a pos­si­ble propo­si­tion ask­ing for the rein­tro­duc­tion of the death penal­ty.2626Tage­blatt: EU leit­et Europäis­che Bürg­erini­tia­tive ein, 1 April 2010.

In a coun­try with only 500,000 inhab­i­tants, a Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive, which needs at least 1,000,000 sig­na­tures to be val­i­dat­ed, does not real­ly pro­duce enor­mous inter­est. Only one Lux­em­bour­gish news­pa­per found the EU Commission’s pro­pos­al for a reg­u­la­tion on the Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive impor­tant enough to pub­lish it.

    Footnotes

  • 1Jean-Claude Junck­er: Je ne veux pas porter les cha­peau du désac­cord fran­co-alle­mand, Les Echos, 27 Jan­u­ary 2010.
  • 2Ibid.
  • 3Ibid.
  • 4Guy Kemp: Mit­telmäßige Ansprüche, Tage­blatt, 3 Decem­ber 2009.
  • 5Ibid.
  • 6Jean-Claude Junck­er: Je ne veux pas porter le cha­peau du désac­cord fran­co-alle­mand, Les Echos, 27 Jan­u­ary 2010.
  • 7Ibid.
  • 8Mar­cel Kief­fer: Erste Früchte, Lux­em­burg­er Wort, 13 Decem­ber 2009.
  • 9Bertrand Slezak: Tout le monde rac­croche, Le Quo­ti­di­en, 5 Feb­ru­ary 2010.
  • 10Ibid.
  • 11Ibid.
  • 12Danièle Fon­ck: Mais qui est cen­sé diriger l’Europe?, Le Jeu­di, 4 Feb­ru­ary 2010.
  • 13Ibid.
  • 14Har­mut Haus­mann: Griechen­land und die Kon­se­quen­zen, Jour­nal, 7 May 2010.
  • 15Ibid.
  • 16Mar­i­anne Truttmann: Gipfel der Eurostaat­en, Lux­em­burg­er Wort, 8 May 2010.
  • 17Jean-Claude Junck­er: Je ne veux pas porter le cha­peau du désac­cord fran­co-alle­mand, Les Echos, 27 Jan­u­ary 2010.
  • 18Ibid.
  • 19Ibid.
  • 20Hart­mut Haus­mann: In einem Boot, Jour­nal, 10 Decem­ber 2009.
  • 21Bertrand Selezak: On n’y voit pas plus clair, Le Quo­ti­di­en, 10 March 2010.
  • 22Paul Helminger in an inter­view with the author on 2 Decem­ber 2009.
  • 23Guy Kemp: Mit­telmäßige Ansprüche, Tage­blatt, 3 Decem­ber 2009.
  • 24Guy Kemp: Klarheit schaf­fen, Tage­blatt, 30 Decem­ber 2009.
  • 25Europafo­rum: L’initiative citoyen­neté européenne donne aux citoyens de nou­velles pos­si­bil­ités d’influer sur les poli­tiques européennes, 31 March 2010.
  • 26Tage­blatt: EU leit­et Europäis­che Bürg­erini­tia­tive ein, 1 April 2010.

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.