July 16, 2014 08:12
The executive arm of the European Union will soon have a new chief.
Jean-Claude Juncker, longtime prime minister of Luxembourg, earned the endorsement of European lawmakers in an overwhelming vote Tuesday in Strasbourg, France. He takes the post over from Jose Manuel Barroso on Nov. 1.
Addressing parliament shortly before the vote, Juncker vowed to work with European lawmakers, champion the euro, and meet challenges ahead that range from instability in Ukraine to minimum wage for Europeans.
As European Commission president, he will hold the most powerful EU job, heading a body that deals with European Union laws and international trade agreements and oversees national budgets.
Juncker, 59, is a known quantity in Europe. Besides being Luxembourg's prime minister of nearly two decades, he headed the group of countries using the euro currency.
But the French Institute for International Relations Brussels office head Vivien Pertusot says in that some ways, Juncker will start with a clean slate.
"When you come to Brussels, people talk to you differently. Because you are not a head of state, you are not the president of the eurogroup any longer," Pertusot said. "So now you become the president of the European Commission. So you become an ally on some occasions and a rival on some other occasions."
One of the first challenges facing Juncker is dealing with a skeptical Britain. Last month, British Prime Minister David Cameron, along with Hungary's leader, rejected his nomination as commission chief.
Cameron has promised to hold a 2017 referendum on leaving the European Union, and on Tuesday he named a staunch euro skeptic, Philip Hammond, as Britain's new foreign secretary.
"Jean-Claude Juncker is probably not an enemy of Britain," Pertusot said. "And he has been quite clear about the fact that he may want to be keen in trying to find a way for Britain to stay in. Whether it is going to be possible remains to be seen and a lot depends on the UK's attitude."
The head of the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, Fabian Zuleeg, says Juncker faces a number of other big challenges.
"Be it the internal issues around the legitimacy of the European Union and the rise of populist, anti-establishment parties; be it the external situation with the question of how Europe deals with the Russia and Ukraine situation; be it the lack of growth and the need to generate jobs," said Zuleeg. "So it is a very full agenda. It is very difficult for the commission to tackle these. What we really need is the political will of the member states."
Juncker is only part of a larger job reshuffle in Brussels. European leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels to discuss other EU nominations, including the successor to European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
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