EU chiefs spar over top jobs as Juncker denied quick appointment

James G. Neuger & Jonathan Stearns

Europe’s leaders resisted calls to quickly baptize Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president, tying the appointment to a broader package of high-profile posts.

Allies of Juncker, a key figure in the creation of the euro in the 1990s and its defense during the debt crisis, ran into opposition led by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron at a summit over dinner in Brussels that spilled into the early hours of Wednesday.

Juncker’s detractors said his advocacy of a more centrally steered European Union makes him the wrong man for the top post following a surge in populist, anti-EU sentiment in Europe-wide elections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who went into the summit endorsing Juncker, came out of it saying “we now need to have consultations” about positions including foreign affairs chief, economic commissioner and the president of summits.

The first post to be decided in the appointments made every five years is head of the commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws, oversees euro fiscal policy, manages the EU single market and negotiates trade accords.

EU-wide unemployment of 10.5 percent, the scars of the debt crisis and hostility to immigration led to the anti- establishment groundswell in elections for the parliament, which has growing powers over European legislation.

French President Francois Hollande, stung by the anti- immigration National Front’s rise to the most popular party in France, said the next commission must promote growth and jobs. He backed Juncker, who beat rivals from four other parties, and accused critics of lacking alternatives.

“There are some countries that don’t want any of the candidates,” Hollande told reporters in Brussels. “It’s up to them to find solutions and internal coherence.”

Juncker is from the same Christian Democratic family of parties as Merkel. Support from Hollande and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, both from the socialist camp, demonstrated his cross-party appeal. As rewards, the socialists could claim other top jobs, such as the foreign affairs post or Herman Van Rompuy’s role chairing EU summits.

Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, emerged as the leading contender on May 25 when his EU-wide group of center- right parties won the most seats in the European Parliament elections. Parliamentary leaders earlier on Tuesday gave him the first shot at forging a majority, echoing the way national coalitions are built.

Parliament’s backing is only half the story. The next head of the commission also requires a supermajority of the 28 national government leaders. A single country can no longer block the appointment, as Britain vetoed Belgium’s then prime minister in 1994.

With the U.K. again facing isolation on a high-level EU appointment, Cameron didn’t publicly oppose Juncker, saying that he would back a candidate who “is about openness, competitiveness and flexibility, and not about the past.” Cameron, who recruited allies in Sweden, the Netherlands and Hungary to slow the Luxembourger’s bandwagon, left the summit without commenting.

Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, a Juncker supporter, said the EU should strive for consensus with the U.K. on the next commission’s policies. “We have to take into account British views, for instance with the substance of what the next commission should do,” he said.

New rules give the Parliament more power in picking the head of the commission. With an eye to protest parties that took 31 percent in the EU-wide election, up from 20 percent five years ago, Merkel said Juncker needs to command a “broad majority” in the parliament to claim the commission job.

EU leaders gave the job of negotiating with the lawmakers to Van Rompuy, who told reporters the leaders “took note” of the Parliament’s preference, without mentioning Juncker by name. He is to report back to leaders at the end of June.

Juncker, 59, ran Luxembourg for almost 19 years until smaller parties ganged up to oust him after last year’s national election. The man responsible for that coup, current Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, backed the quick appointment of Juncker.

Opposition to the parliament’s candidate would trigger “a big institutional crisis in Europe and we just need everything apart from a crisis now,” Bettel said.