The European Parliament voted on July 15 to approve Jean-Claude Juncker as the new European Commission President, to begin a five-year term on November 1 2014.
Juncker had the backing, significantly, of the European Parliament’s largest groups – the centre-right European People’s Party and the Socialists and Democrats, as well as the liberal ALDE, the fourth-largest group.
To win election, Juncker needed the votes of 376 of the European Parliament’s 751 members. MEPs voted in a secret ballot, using paper ballots instead of electronic voting.
A total of 422 MEPs voted in favour of Juncker, 250 voted against, there were 47 abstentions and 10 invalid ballots.
Speaking for the socialist group, Gianni Pittella said that their support for Juncker was “not a blank cheque”. “We know you are not a socialist,” Pittella told Juncker.
Guy Verhofstadt of ALDE said that the choice of Juncker meant real European democracy, because it was voters who were deciding – a reference to the EPP having taken the largest single share of seats in the EU’s May 2014 EP elections, with Juncker named as their European Commission President candidate.
Verhofstadt appealed to Juncker for a policy approach that promoted both austerity and growth, instead of treating these as opposites.
He said that those voting against Juncker were siding with the anti-Europeans.
Syed Kamall, of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, the third-largest group in the European Parliament, said that the group would not vote for Juncker but would stand with him if he came up with an agenda that prepared Europe for the future.
Kamall said that his group did not believe that Juncker had a mandate from across all 28 member states.
Gabrielle Zimmer of leftist GUE/NGL said that conservatives had not really won the European Parliament elections, if those who did not vote or who had voted for other options were taken into account.
In a scathing address, British UKIP leader Nigel Farage, of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, poured scorn on the process, saying that Juncker’s name had appeared on no ballot paper anywhere in the European Parliament elections, adding that the legislature being presented with only one candidate to vote for was “like good old Soviet times”.
Farage said that it was clear that Juncker would carry on a process of centralisation of powers. “We are being asked to vote for the ultimate Brussels insider,” the UKIP leader said.
French far-right leader Marine le Pen told Juncker, “you are an illegitimate nothing who will rule over people who did not vote for you”. She dismissed the EU as a crazy project and described Juncker’s vision for it as “dangerous utopianism”.
Earlier, opening the debate on his candidacy, Juncker – a former eurogroup head – said that the euro protects Europe. He called for the euro zone to create a joint budget, separate from the EU budget, to help countries making difficult structural reforms.
Juncker called for a 300 billion euro investment plan to boost growth and create jobs. He also called for the Troika, which deals with bailouts by the EU of member states in financial and economic crisis, to be made more democratic with more scrutiny by the European Parliament.
He pledged that EU rules on the free movement of labour would not be changed but said that member states should tackle abuses of the system.
There would be no further enlargement of the 28-member EU in the next five years, Juncker said.
(Photo of Juncker: epp.eu)