ROME – A real struggle over who will preside over the European Commission has begun. Though the center-right European People’s Party won only a narrow plurality of 221 seats in the 751-seat European Parliament, center-left, green, and liberal MEPs have all rallied behind the EPP’s candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker, as the “legitimate” choice. The opposition, led by British Prime Minister David Cameron with the support of “sovereignists” across Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, but also in Hungary, contends that someone whom the majority of European citizens hardly know, cannot claim any kind of political legitimacy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is now in a bind. Though she endorsed Juncker before the election, she never really backed the notion that the European Parliament should have a decisive part in selecting the Commission’s president. She was certain that no party would win an absolute majority, but she did not foresee that almost all representatives from moderate parties would back whichever candidate won a plurality, making it difficult to appoint anyone else.
The larger issue at stake is whether Europe is prepared to establish the common political space that is needed to manage the monetary union and strengthen the European Union’s influence in world affairs.
Most economists agree that in the absence of advanced fiscal-policy coordination and a real banking union, Europe’s monetary union cannot succeed. This does not bother the United Kingdom, which has no desire to join the eurozone. Among eurozone members, however, the need for greater political integration is broadly accepted, and not just by the economic and political elites.