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European Union

Opinion: Merkel's support for Juncker strengthens the EU

She seldom commits herself too early. But now Chancellor Merkel voiced her support for Juncker as president of the EU Commission. That saves the EU parliament and Juncker from losing their face, says DW's Andreas Noll.

Andreas Noll
(Photo: Christel Becker-Rau)

Andreas Noll is a political reporter at Deutsche Welle

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made an effort in front of the believers. She used Catholics Day, a major event for Germany's Catholics, to express her support for Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the EU Commission. So far, Merkel had supported the long-time prime minister of Luxembourg's nomination as fellow conservative party politician but as head of Germany's government, she had not previously expressed her support for him. Whether Merkel honestly believes Juncker will become the Commission's next president is a secret she will keep for herself. She could hardly have been called a passionate supporter of his candidacy.

Juncker's chances at becoming the president of the EU Commission improved thanks to Merkel's support, but he is still far from being able to take office. Still, it is a positive signal that Europe's most powerful woman voiced her support for Juncker.

Juncker's support in Germany is increasing

The moment of her announcement had not been chosen by chance. The number of supporters for Juncker in Germany is increasing. After Tuesday's EU summit, where the European heads of states and governments agreed only on an agenda for the EU Commission, Merkel had been confronted with the media's displeasure of her maneuvering. That has increased in recent days. A surprising coalition has formed to support Juncker's alleged right to nominated head of the EU's executive branch. "Juncker has to become president," demanded Mathias Döpfner, the influential CEO of the Axel-Springer publishing house, in the tabloid "Bild." On the same day, Germany's most important philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, has warned in the daily "Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of back room deals that could hinder the conservative frontrunner to become president of the EU Commission saying, such a move would strike at the heart of the European project.

Both the publishing house manager and the philosopher don't necessarily support Jean-Claude Juncker because of his agenda, which hardly differs from his rival candidate Martin Schulz. Instead both are concerned about the state of European democracy. What would happen to the project EU, which is increasingly under attack by left and right-wing populists, if the experiment of the Europe-wide frontrunner were to end in a disaster? The election campaign slogan "Our man for the Commission presidency" has left its marks - particularly in Germany.

Not a death knell for the EU

It wouldn't be a death knell for the EU if another candidate for the Commission presidency were to be pulled out of a magic hat. Whoever is honest has to admit that the stagnant voter turnout and low rating of the candidates' TV debate show that the idea of voting for a "frontrunner" has not been a success. But a closer look at the balance of power in the EU institutions shows that the president of the EU Commission is not the head of a government that has to report to a parliament. Although the EU Parliament has been given more powers in the last years, tax law is not currently one of them. The representatives are working with a budget, which is mainly based on the tax revenues they have no control over. Therefore, it is logical that the heads of state and governments are going to the mat in the fight for who will lead the EU Commission, the third EU center of power. In Brussels it is eventually the EU Commission that pushes new legislative initiatives - and therefore influences the EU's direction.

It is still good news that Angela Merkel is backing Jean-Claude Juncker. The way things stood just two days after the elections, the EU was facing a double loss of face: the clear disassociation of the heads of state and governments from Juncker had not just been a blow to Juncker, but also to the parliament, which clearly gave its support for negotiations under the leadership of the conservatives.

Though Merkel's support for Juncker has not been unconditional, she has made two points clear: the chancellor has shown her respect for the parliament and for the election winner. It remains unclear if Juncker will become the Commission's next president and if Europe will be spared of a paralyzing power struggle between the Council of the EU, made up of heads of EU state and government, and the parliament. But at least Europe's most powerful woman prevented that the left and right-wing populists from feeling vindicated when they claim that there are lies and deception everywhere in the EU. That is something we can be happy about.

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