It’s the Socialists, not Cameron, who could block a Juncker Presidency

Cameron might not be able to stop a Juncker presidency, but the European Socialists might. 

Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

As these lines are written, David Cameron is heading for a resounding defeat in the Council. The British Premier’s opposition to the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the Commission is well known but why he would want to call a vote in the Council is unknown. According to the rules, the candidate must collect 260 weighed votes out of 352, representing at least 15 states. These are the old Nice Treaty rules (in force until November 2014), which set the threshold for a qualified majority at 74 percent of the votes and, correspondingly, veto capacity at 26 percent of the weighted votes, i.e. 92 votes.

weighted votes in the last European elections

The table with the weighted votes and a user-friendly calculator allowing one to play a bit with the possible coalitions can be accessed here, courtesy of the Council. The numbers tell a simple story: the “boat coalition” that ambushed Angela Merkel in a Swedish pond in order to veto Juncker simply does not have the votes to prevent Juncker from being nominated. David Cameron, Mark Rutte (Netherlands) and Frederik Reinfeldt (Sweden) together account for only 52 votes, far from the 92 votes a veto would require. So, besides Merkel (Germany has 29 votes), they would need another country (Hungary?, 12 votes) to block Juncker. So, from the beginning this was “Mission Impossible” for Cameron.

But there is another story to be told, and it is about the Socialists being the ones who could block Juncker. And, note, they could do it twice, once in the Council and again in the Parliament. This weekend, the French President, François Hollande, gathered the leaders from the Socialist family in the Elysée. The meeting included  ten heads of government formally ascribed to the Socialist camp: Werner Faymann (Austria), Elio Di Rupo (Belgium), Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark), Matteo Renzi (Italy), Victor Ponta (Romania), Robert Fico, (Slovakia), Bohuslav Sobotka (Czech Republic), Joseph Muscat (Malta) and François Hollande.

weighted votes in the last European elections

Checking the votes’ table, one can easily see that these leaders together hold over 120 votes, more than enough to block Juncker in the Council. True, Austrian and Belgian Socialists are in coalitions with EPP parties, so they might abstain, but this would still leave the coalition with 101, enough votes to veto Juncker. So, Juncker needs the Socialist votes to be designated candidate by the Council, and then to be approved by the Parliament where the 191 Socialist MEPs are required to give Juncker an absolute majority (see “Who will run Europe after the elections”).

All this is hardly news but it is worth stressing: these elections, citizens were told, would be different because citizens could chose between different candidates and, supposedly, between different policies. The socialists, headed by Martin Schulz have battled the conservatives on austerity.  And they haven’t done badly. As Daniel Gros reminded us a few days ago (“Who has won the elections”?), they obtained more votes that the EPP.  But the Socialists seem to prefer a coalition government in which they would get juicy posts (the Presidency of the Council, the High Rep, and the President of the Parliament) than to be in the opposition. All fine, but one wonders where this differs from what the mainstream parties have been doing for the last thirty years in Europe. Were these elections so different after all? Is this sustainable?

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Author

Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow