It was clearly Jean-Claude Juncker’s day to enjoy and he did – basking in the standing ovations, flashing cameras and unending line of well-wishers.
The newly elected president of European Commission will begin work on November 1, after winning a majority 423 votes in the European Parliament on Wednesday.
“The new commission will be very political,” Juncker said in a tone of self-confidence. The Luxembourg politician said he was neither a “servant of the European Parliament,” nor would he allow the leaders of European Union countries to make him their bailiff. His statements were directed at political leaders in two cities: Berlin and Paris.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French president, François Hollande, won’t have it as easy with this commission president as they did with his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso. The Portuguese politician was so diplomatic that he eventually became all but unrecognizable behind his many vacuous clichés.
“The new commission will be very political.”
By contrast, Mr. Juncker is fond of clarity, as he promptly demonstrated in his speech to the European Parliament. “The Germans will have to get used to the fact that they can be weaker in the long term,” said the Christian Democrat, without even having to mention the recent declines in German growth figures.
Without mentioning France by name, Mr. Juncker added, “There can be no flexibility without structural reforms.” But it was a message the French government, which is asking Brussels a third time for more time to consolidate its budget, clearly understood.
The European Union, Mr. Juncker said, needs to quickly take steps against the “improbable investment gap” that has persisted for years now. For that reason, the incoming commission president said he would unveil his new €300-billion ($380-billion) investment program in late December rather than waiting another three months.
A man like Mr. Juncker who comes off as a winner has the luxury of occasionally referring to himself as a loser.
“Attempts to dissuade me from this plan will be fruitless,” Mr. Juncker warned. A few politicians in Berlin may have felt he was speaking directly to them.
Mr. Juncker doesn’t intend to pay for the investment program with new debt. “We want to stimulate investment through the intelligent contribution of public funds,” he said.
As head of the European Commission, Juncker said has nevertheless relinquished a great deal of power to his seven vice-presidents, noting, “I’m the big loser in this architecture.” That remark was met with silence, followed by chuckles from some of his flabbergasted listeners. A man like Mr. Juncker who comes off as a winner has the luxury of occasionally referring to himself as a loser.
Was this the master of self-irony speaking, or was he being serious? It was a question some members of the European Parliament may have asked themselves. But then the president-elect of the commission promptly offered his own answer: “Someone who delegates privileges can also take them back again.”
Ruth Berschens has been Handelsblatt’s Brussels bureau chief since 2009. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org