UK politicians call Juncker arch-federalist, and the press has taken over this term, too. The Telegraph does it. The Guardian does it. The (Irish) Independent does it. The Washington Post does. What they show is their lack of perspective, of comparative analysis, with Juncker’s predecessor(s) and with his competitors for the Commission top-job.
Had those media closely followed political discourses at European level in recent years, they would have noticed that the current Commission President was not less in danger of being an ultra-arch-hardcore-whatever “federalist” – aka “pro-centralisation-ist” as Nosemonkey pointed out.
In 2011, Barroso said Europe needed a “federalist moment”. He has called for the EU to become a federation of nation states back in 2012 and had to defend himself writing that this would not mean an EU-superstate. Then again, he said in 2013 that the EU would be a federation in a few years’ time.
Most interestingly, Barroso was backed twice by the UK.
First, because he liked the Iraq war that Britain had tried to get Europe into based on lies. Second, because Barroso has a strong pro-US stance based on his CV and also because he was known to be a market-liberal. And when he was re-elected as Commission President in 2009, the UK government knew that he was such a weak Commission President that he would not face any threat.
Juncker, it seems, has neither of these qualities, and that’s probably worse than the his so-called “arch-federalist” views. Why? Because Cameron made the Tories leave the European People’s Party because it was too federalist – meaning that any EPP candidate is potentially too federalist for Cameron anyway, so that could hardly be the argument.
Instead, the debate around Juncker shows how the UK and European political discourse have seen a change during and after these elections.
It shows that for the first time the outcome of a European election seem to matter for British politics, and that is so frightening for parts of the political and journalistic class that they have to leave their years of quality discourse and quality EU journalism (#sarcasm) and lose sight of reality.
Funny enough, had the UK press been as fierce on Barroso as on Juncker, we would have spent the best part of 2004 discussing about Barroso’s communist past. But we didn’t. Instead, we got “Mr Compromise” Barroso (not “Mr Maoist” Barroso) as part of a backroom deal over the policies and top-job portfolios. Not much excitement.
Now, this time it’s just a little different, but to quote from yesterday’s Charlamagne column in The Economist:
“The odd thing is that, of the available Spitzenkandidaten, Mr Juncker is probably the least bad choice. He is neither an ultra-federalist like Guy Verhofstadt, the liberals’ man, nor a creature of the parliament like Mr Schulz.”
It shows how a little bit of perspective suits the debate, whether it’s comparison of Juncker with his predecessor(s) or with those man who ran alongside Juncker for the Commission presidency.
So as someone who wouldn’t call himself a federalist/centralisatist, I’m not afraid of getting an “arch-federalist” Commission President with Juncker.
What I’m more afraid is that Juncker will not be up to the job. During the TV debates in past months, I’ve seen a tired old man with little capacity to explain European policies and politics to a wider audience, even though Charlemagne indicates he is rather likable in private. Even if he was arch-federalist, he didn’t leave the impression that he would fight for that (or for anything).
So what we should be afraid of is a Commission President who’d be even less inspirational than Barroso in his 10 years on the top. Probably a great hope for Mr. Cameron and his PR-stunt for EU reform.
But then again, Juncker at least managed to get any kind of emotion into EU politics – that’s definitely a plus compared to the past decade and José Manuel Barroso. And that’s my closing comparative view.