"You are the first Parliament to elect the Commission President ", said Jean-Claude Juncker, presenting his programme in a final debate with Parliament's political group leaders before its vote on his election on Tuesday. MEPs applauded many of Mr Juncker's aims and reassurances.
Mr Juncker set out his reform agenda, his aim for a social market economy, including a €300 billion investment package to boost growth, employment and competitiveness, his views on making the EU Commission/ECB/IMF Troika more democratic, the margin for flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact and his ideas for a European energy union.
On the Commission’s relations with the Council and Parliament and restoring citizens’ trust, he said "Let's see what we can achieve in practice and not bore our citizens with inter-institutional quarrelling. And let's resist criticizing Brussels for everything that goes wrong. If you say "yes" in Brussels, don't say "no" elsewhere. We have to play as a team, according to the community's decision-making method ". "We should not Europeanise every tiny problem in the EU but focus on the big issues", he added.
For the EPP group, Manfred Weber (DE) said "Today is a good day for Europe, as the EU has become more democratic. The voters have co-decided, for the first time, on the top position of the European Commission and its political orientation.” (…) “Jean-Claude Juncker is the right man at the right time, a man who stands for consensus", he added. Mr Weber named four priorities of his group for the next Commission term: growth, monetary stability, more respect for national Parliaments, and an EU looking again beyond its borders.
For the S&D group, Gianni Pittella (IT) said "Lessons from the crisis: all rules need to be applied, but at the service of citizens. Another lesson: we need more democracy (...). We support you, Mr Juncker, because we believe you have learned those lessons, particularly on the need for democracy". But "Our vote in favour is not a blank cheque, we will be intransigent", he added. Mr Pittella also said "A proper balance needs to be struck between financial stability and the need for investment: we need more investments for growth and employment, a more social Europe and greater solidarity, especially on immigration issues".
For the ECR group, Syed Kamall (UK) said "The election which was supposed to end all background deals has become the mother of all background deals",explaining that his group would not support Mr Juncker's bid because of the election process, but also because "we do not believe that you are the adequate man to lead Europe in the future years"."Europe needs a leadership that looks forward, not backwards", Mr Kamall argued, adding that that leadership needs to build a single market fit for the new era, set up more interconnected energy sources and negotiate more open and transparent trade agreements in the coming years.
For the ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt (BE) said that a vote for Mr Juncker was a vote for both austerity and growth. "I hope you'll do both: without fiscal discipline there is no growth, and we have to go beyond fiscal discipline and encourage growth, with a growth package", he said. Mr Verhofstadt also underlined that "fundamental rights are fundamental. We cannot discuss them, whatever the traditions of a member states are". Criticising MEPs planning to abstain or to vote against Mr Juncker, he said "they side with anti-Europeans and they are failing their voters, by preferring backroom deals."
For the GUE/NGL group, Gabriele Zimmer (DE) said "I don't share this common euphoria. This is just a first step, but not democracy's victory. Democracy has also failed. 3.5 times more people did not vote for the conservatives than those who did. They either voted for something else or they did not vote at all. We have all lost these elections. My group will not support you, but we will monitor your work daily during the coming years." (…)"We expect some clear answers from you. How do you intend to reform the work of the Troika? What will you do to the problem of debt? What exactly is your idea for minimum salaries – do you want a salary one can actually live on?"
For the Greens/EFA group Philippe Lamberts (BE) said: "If 25% of Europeans are on the verge of poverty and social exclusion, if 10% of us own 60% of Europe's collective wealth, if the climate is deregulated to the point of resulting in a global warming of 6 degrees, and if 30% of all non-renewable resources have been used up in the last 30 years, then the very existence of our societies is in danger. Will you be the man to put through the reforms needed to tackle these challenges?" (...) I honestly want to believe you, and a certain number of the members of our group want to support you, as we believe that the process which has brought you here today is clearly a modest step towards a more democratic Europe. But other of our members do not trust you to be the man for the necessary reforms, and hence are divided."
For the EFDD, Nigel Farage (UK) said his group would not support Mr Juncker: "Nobody in the UK knew that the elections had anything to do with a nominee for the Commission Presidency. And now we are all asked to vote, but there is only one candidate. It's like in the old Soviet times.". Criticising the secrecy of the ballot, Mr Farage said "politicians should not vote in secret, but should be held accountable to our own voters". He admitted that Mr Juncker had "changed the mood music in recent weeks, by saying that he is against the United states of Europe. But I don't believe a word of it", Mr Farage concluded.
For non-attached MEPs, Marine Le Pen (NI, FR) said: “On 25th May the people of Europe people woke up and shook the whole continent from its torpor. The European project has become a crazy, fatal project, and people are turning away from the EU (...) Socialists and the EPP turned their back on the message that came from the ballot box, and are now sharing the top posts (...) But don’t think people chose Mr Juncker over Mr Schulz: they are both totally unknown and don’t represent anything", she said. "Patriots in France reject the legitimacy of the European Commission (...) We will fight your federalist utopia and your obsession with killing the nation state” she added.
To review the debate, please see EbS + (link to the right)