Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, reiterated her support for Jean-Claude Juncker in a statement Wednesday, following rumours that she was actually backing Christine Lagarde for the position of President of the European Commission. This idea, that the German chancellor was seeking to convince Lagarde to step down as the Chief of the International Monetary Fund in order to lead the European Commission, was based on a report by Reuters, which said that Merkel discussed the issue privately with French President Francois Hollande.
Although Hollande reportedly did not make a final decision on the issue, he allegedly stated that it was not a good idea for Europe to lose the position of Chief of the International Monetary Fund. Christine Lagarde, a 58-year-old whose term as IMF chief runs until 2016, is fluent in English, thanks to her time heading a major American law firm, and is highly regarded by both Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German Finance Minister. Rumours of Lagarde being proposed as the Chief of the European Commission stem from an earlier admission on the part of Merkel that Mr. Juncker may not have enough support among European leaders to justify his appointment.
Particularly vehement in his disapproval of Mr. Juncker is David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Mr. Cameron’s objections have been characterized by analysts as consisting mainly of arguments against a more centralized European Union, as Cameron recently stated that the European Union has become ‘too big’ and ‘too interfering’. The Prime Minister further insinuated that Jean-Claude Juncker was not a suitable candidate for the position when he suggested that European Union institutions needed to be led by people who respected nation states, a comment which has been seen as a response to Juncker’s advocacy of a more centrally managed European Union. These concerns, however, have not stopped Angela Merkel from backing Juncker for the position.
Mr. Cameron would need to muster 93 votes in order to successfully block Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as Chief of the European Commission, and while the U.K. holds 29 votes on its own, analysts believe that it is unlikely that Cameron could garner enough support to win the other 64 votes needed. Britain has supported Christine Lagarde, as well as Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Danish Prime Minister, as acceptable candidates, and they have managed to find some support among the European community of nations. Representatives of Sweden, Hungary, and the Netherlands, have objected to Mr. Juncker’s appointment on the grounds that the leading candidate of the biggest party in the European Parliament should not be the Chief of the European Commission, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has expressed his willingness to accept an alternate candidate.
This pressure from Mr. Cameron has put Merkel in a difficult position, as she has repeatedly insisted that German foreign policy was to keep the United Kingdom involved in the European bloc, something that was repeated Tuesday in a statement by Steffen Seibert, Merkel’s chief spokesman. Unfortunately for Angela Merkel, she is under significant internal pressure, including pressure from the German Social Democrats, to back Jean-Claude Juncker, and it remains to be seen how she will be able to deal with these competing influences.
By Nicholas Grabe