The fact that Jean Claude Juncker is now the new European Commission president doesn’t mean David Cameron was wrong to insist he was the wrong man for the job. And despite some press reports, this hasn’t damaged the position of the UK in Europe. It’s shown the UK’s serious in demanding reform. In time others, including Germany, might regret voting for someone seemingly more interested in a federal Europe than an alliance of Member States.
It’s true that the party Mr Juncker represents – the right-of-centre European People’s Party or EPP – has the most seats in the European parliament. That, however, shouldn’t have been the basis for him becoming Commission president. This should have been solely a decision by the heads of state of the national governments that make up the EU. Losing this battle to claims that the European parliament represents the democratic wish of EU citizens means power has shifted away from the nations of the EU towards a more federal, Brussels and Strasbourg-driven agenda.
That can’t help the case for reform; it also ignored the groundswell of support for parties opposed to the entire EU. Far from dampening down support for them this will give them fresh ammunition. What is certain is that those who would like policies such as the CAP built around a loose set of policy priorities set by Brussels but implemented at a Member States level have just had the odds stacked against them. What we could now have is a Commission that believes it can press for ever closer union between Member States, at the expense of national parliaments and ministers. If this eventually goes wrong – possibly because of a lack of funding in the EU budget for any grandiose thinking – some might regret that they sought to isolate the UK.
With Mr Juncker appointed the battle moves on to who will make up the new European Commission. Before that the chairmanship of the various parliamentary committees has to be agreed, and the signs are that the chairmanship of both the agriculture and environment committees will go to the EPP as the biggest party in the parliament. The odds on the current farm commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, serving a second term seem to be shortening. We already know the Romanian government will nominate him as a commissioner, if he secures the agriculture portfolio. As things stand there do not seem to be others pressing for the position.
Over CAP reform this would be no bad thing. Mr Ciolos knows the detail of what was delivered and he’s well placed to see the policy fully implemented. With a review of the policy due in 2017, it would also be good to have that undertaken by someone who understands the checks and balances. During the term of the new Commission thoughts will be turning to the post-2020 reform of the CAP, and again Mr Ciolos would be well placed to develop ideas that will extend the current approach of more even payments within and between Member States.
Mr Ciolos has always been more of a technocrat than a big personality, but he understands agriculture and after five years has a good knowledge of farming in every EU Member State. The fear when he took the job, as someone from one of the new Member States, was that he’d show bias. This didn’t happen, and for that he deserves credit. The big question is whether someone else might be better. That may be the case, but with CAP reform agreed there’s not a lot a new commissioner could do to change direction. On that basis a second term for Mr Ciolos and the continuity it would bring would not be a bad outcome.