I’ll start off by saying that I quite like Jean-Claude Juncker, the former longstanding prime minister of Luxembourg and current candidate to become president of the European Commission. He’s level headed, intelligent and like me, pro-European. But as a pro-European, I have to concede that now is not the time to have someone like Mr Juncker heading up the Commission. To do so could potentially threaten the entire European project.
Across Europe, over two weeks ago now, the people delivered a verdict which called for less Europe. Even the most Europhilic amongst us needs to listen to that. I’m not saying we give in to it, but we must take note of the warning it is sending us. If we don’t make the European Union more attractive to a greater number of the continent’s citizens, eventually it will be rejected. The next president of the European Commission needs to understand this intrinsically. He or she needs to get that something needs to be done to make the EU relevant to people’s lives. And speaking endlessly about a European super state is not the way to go about doing this.
Christine Lagarde, the current director of the IMF and ex-French Minister of Finance, would be a stellar choice, as last week’s Economist pointed out. She’s enough of everything to please most – not too right wing, not too left, not too Europhilic, not too Eurosceptic. What Europe desperately needs right now is someone who can show that while the EU needs to stay together, people all across the continent want less of it in many ways, at least for now. To push against this risks catastrophe.
I sympathise with the Prime Minister in his discussions with Merkel; whatever can be done to get the best face at the top of the Commission, the better. It will already be hard for Cameron to renegotiate some kind of resettlement that will please the Commission and the majority of the British people (if not the majority of his parliamentarians, but that’s another tale). It will be made all the more difficult with a Euro-federalist manning the ship. And if Britain leaves, the whole thing starts to wobble a bit.
In an ideal world, the whole process would be much more transparent and democratic, and the problem of the ascension of the president being done behind closed doors would not exist. Parliament should have more say in the process and even perhaps an official ability to veto. But we are where we are.
This could be the most important presidency the European Commission doles out in its entire history. They need to get it right, desperately. The person who will be cheering the loudest in Britain if it goes to Juncker will be Nigel Farage.