Next week’s plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg will revolve around the confirmation of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission. Juncker is scheduled to address MEPs at 10am on Tuesday (15 July), the second day of plenary, with a secret vote foreseen for 1pm on the same day.
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Juncker is seeking to secure the support of the 479 MEPs from the three political groups that make up the Parliament’s grand coalition – the centre-right European People’s Party, the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The absolute minimum he needs for his confirmation is 376 votes in favour. ALDE will not take its final decision about whether to back Juncker until Monday (14 July).
Last Tuesday and Wednesday (8-9 July), Juncker appeared before the political groups to outline his political programme and to woo their MEPs. He focused his charm on the Green group, whose 50 largely undecided MEPs could help to compensate for dissenters from the grand coalition. Juncker will have to pick up votes from MEPs in other groups, since the confirmation vote is secret, and abstentions – or even votes against – can be expected from some of the conservatives, social democrats and liberals. The Parliament’s third-largest group, the European Conservatives and Reformists, opposes Juncker for ideological reasons, as do most MEPs from the far-left GUE and the Eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy, leaving the Greens as the main reservoir of extra votes.
But not all Greens were impressed by Juncker’s many promises on issues ranging from fracking (which he personally opposes, he said) and genetically modified organisms (where he pledged to work toward a more straightforward approval procedure) to a mandatory lobbyist register for all EU institutions. Heidi Hautala, a Finnish MEP from the Greens, wrote on Twitter after Juncker’s hearing yesterday that he could have been “a lot worse”. Her decision whether to back his appointment, she said, was a balancing act between political substance and strategy. Many MEPs are backing Juncker not because they support his policies but because they believe in the Spitzenkandidaten system that made him the front-runner for Commission president.
Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green who is one of Parliament’s vice-presidents, welcomed Juncker’s criticism of excessive austerity but also described most of his answers as vague, a view echoed by other MEPs.
Next week’s plenary session starts late on Monday (14 July, a public holiday in France) with hearings of replacement commissioners. Tuesday is mostly taken up by Juncker’s hearing and the vote on him, with an afternoon session on a trade deal with the US and the withdrawal of the maternity-leave directive. The morning debate on Wednesday is on youth employment, while the afternoon session is devoted to the situation in Iraq and Ukraine and a related briefing by Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief. On Thursday, MEPs will debate human rights and at midday vote on the replacement commissioners (see right). The Parliament will also agree which MEPs should sit on the various delegations to countries and regions outside the EU. On Tuesday, the plenary will set the number of MEPs in each delegation and on Thursday it will vote on actual members of delegations.
Lisbon treaty sets higher threshold for confirmation
The Lisbon treaty, which took effect after José Manuel Barroso was confirmed in September 2009 for a second term in office, sets the bar higher than the previous treaties, requiring an absolute majority of all MEPs regardless of how many may be absent. In the current Parliament, this means the nominee needs at least 376 votes in order to be confirmed. Barroso was confirmed in 2009 with 382 votes in favour, 219 against and 117 abstentions. In July 2004, Barroso’s result was 413 in favour, 251 against and 44 abstentions. Romano Prodi was confirmed in May 1999 with 392 in favour, 72 against and 41 abstentions. Jacques Santer in July 1994 received 260 votes in favour, 238 against and 23 abstentions.