July 12, 2014

Particularly Close to Germany


BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Own report) - With Jean-Claude Juncker, Germany will have a politician as President of the EU Commission, who has always been a close ally. Juncker says that "since his earliest youth," he has "always felt particularly close" to Germany, an affinity that "grew even stronger" in later years. The former prime minister of Luxemburg is seen as former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's protégé and as the "mediator" in Germany's interests, wherein he had also won France over to accept Germany's standpoint on an economic and monetary union. The transition from the Barroso cabinet to that of Juncker will be coordinated by the German national, Martin Selmayr, who had previously been employed as cabinet director of the EU Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, (Luxemburg) and was considered to "actually be the Commissioner of Justice." He is also considered to become cabinet director of Juncker's office as President of the Commission. Germans are at decisive posts on the Council of Ministers as well as in the European Parliament, for example as parliamentary group whips, and the German national, Martin Schulz is being considered for the next presidency of the parliament. An influential German journal commented the concentration of Germans at the leadership level of the EU's bureaucracy with "The EU speaks German."

Kohl's Protégé
According to both his own admissions and the views of his detractors, Jean-Claude Juncker has, from the very beginning, been - both personally as well as politically - Germany's close ally. "I have always felt particularly close to Germany - since my earliest youth," he said in November 2013. "That has remained so, and even, in fact, grown stronger." Juncker traces this affinity back to the fact that his father, who served in the German Wehrmacht during the Second World War, had raised him to be "pro-German." That had been "one of his life accomplishments." "Not everyone could achieve that after the Second World War."[1] Politically, the EU Commission's president-elect is considered to have been former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's protégé. In the 1980s, the Prime Minister of Luxemburg, Jacques Santer, "introduced" his employee, Juncker, "to European politics," according to a critical retrospection on his political biography. Kohl then transformed him "into a European political authority." "I owe my influence in Europe to him," Juncker admitted in October 2012.[2] Already in 1988 - at the unusually early age of 33 - Juncker was awarded Germany's "Federal Cross of Merit". "You have more than lived up to the hopes placed in you in 1988," praised Chancellor Angela Merkel, November 8, 2013, as she awarded him the second highest national award - the "Grand Cross of the Order of Merit".
Opening Doors
Merkel must have also been thinking of Junckers significance for the - largely successful - efforts to impose German positions over those of France within the EU. "Not only are the Luxembourger accustomed to the languages, the perceptions, the cultures of both countries - France and Germany, they also know how to effectively reconcile one with the other," observed Merkel in November 2013, in reference to Luxemburg's historical experience of vacillating between the major powers, Germany and France. That facilitates "opening doors in Europe that were thought to have been locked."[3] Critics explain this allusion to political policy with the example of a German-French dispute in 1996: "During negotiations on the essential criteria to be fulfilled by a country to join the economic and monetary union, Kohl sent the Luxembourger to sound out the French. Together with Germany's Minister of Finance, Theo Waigel, Juncker was able to win the French government's support for an independent European Central Bank, patterned upon the German model."[4]
Balance No Longer Necessary
The fact that the German Chancellor has now imposed Junckers nomination, in particular against Great Britain's strong resistance, is a reflection of Germany's uncontested hegemonic power over the EU. In 2004, London withdrew Chris Patten, its - majority favored - candidate, because Paris was opposed to his candidature. Back in those days, a certain balance in the interests of the EU's main powers was still seen as more or less indispensable. Today, this is no longer the case, in any case, as far as Berlin is concerned. In Great Britain, Juncker has been met with absolute rejection, regardless of party affiliation. Even the German press has had to admit that in Great Britain "almost no one" considers him "an appropriate choice."[5] The idea of beginning to search for a more consensual compromise candidate - as had been routine procedure, in such cases in the past - was smugly dismissed in Berlin. "Since Prime Minister Cameron was unwilling to give in on the controversy over Juncker" he had to be outvoted according to the media. "The majority decision ... had become inevitable."[6]
Actually the Commissioner
Juncker owes his new post to not only the German Chancellor, but to the head of his election campaign team, the German national, Martin Selmayr. Selmayr, had headed - from 2001 to 2004 - Germany's Bertelsmann AG's EU Mission, to then begin work as speaker of the Luxembourger EU Commissioner, Viviane Reding, where, in 2010, he was promoted to become her cabinet director, when she began presiding over the commission's justice department. Reding allowed him "so much leeway in the planning and elaboration of new proposals" that "some in Brussels began to see her as the doll, and Selmayr as the ventriloquist," according to one report. More than a few people began to consider him "to actually be the commissioner." Beginning this week, Selmayr will take charge of coordinating the transition from Barroso's cabinet to Juncker's.[7] Some observers are speculating that eventually, he may be called to head Juncker's cabinet. The head of Commission President José Manuel Barroso's cabinet - Juncker's predecessor - was Johannes Laitenberger, also a German national. In Brussels, this post is seen as extremely important. The head of the cabinet directs the bureaucracy's daily functioning and can, as is the case of state secretaries in German ministries, exercise a decisive influence over political priorities and their implementation - usually obscured from public attention and beyond any constraints of democratic legitimation.
General Secretaries
German officials hold top positions in other central EU institutions. For example, since mid-2011, the General Secretary of the Council of Ministers - with a staff of about 2,500 - is a German national. General Secretary Uwe Corsepius previously headed the Europe Section of the German Chancellery. The head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is Klaus Regling, who already from 2001 to 2008 had been in a leading position in Brussels, as the Director General of the European Commission's Economic and Financial Affairs directorate. Previous to his appointment in Brussels, Regling had served as Director-General for European and International Financial Relations in the German Ministry of Finance.[8] Klaus Welle, another German, is the General Secretary of the European Parliament - the parliament's highest ranking official. Welle is accredited with the idea of having one of the top candidates of the European elections become President of the EU Commission. Juncker, who has benefitted from this, has promised to work more closely in the future with the parliament.
German Led
Aside from its German General Secretary, the parliament is, itself exposed to a predominating German influence. Of its 751 parliamentarians, 96 are from Germany - more than an eighth of the parliamentarians - one-fourth more than the second in line, France, with 74 parliamentarians. Since January 2012, the European Parliament's president has been Martin Schulz, of the German SPD, who, June 18, was elected - provisionally - chair of the Social Democratic parliamentary group, but intends to assume this post, also in the future. The conservative European People's Party (EPP) parliamentary group is presided over by Manfred Weber of the German CSU Party; one of the two co-Chairs of the Green Parliamentary Group is Rebecca Harms, also of the German Greens. The member of the German Left Party, Gabi Zimmer, was confirmed on June 19 as chair of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL). She had succeeded Lothar Bisky (German Left Party) in March 2012. Four of the seven EU parliamentary groups are under German leadership.

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