Jean-Claude Juncker as Head of the EPP

The PDU on former Luxemburgish Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker as EPP candidate for the forthcoming European Parliament elections. By Maxence Salendre.

Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, now EPP's top candidate for the European Elections.

Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, now EPP’s top candidate for the European Elections.

It’s under a shy but warming Irish sun that the Emerald Isle celebrated its economic return to grace within EU circles on March 7 during the European People’s Party convention. In a reinvigorating family meeting hosted at the Dublin Convention Centre, EPP members, European conservative MPs and right-wing supporters celebrated the Irish recovery and discussed electoral strategy. But the real purpose was elsewhere. The real question was: “Who would lead the conservative troops to the forthcoming electoral assault of May 22-25?” 382 votes later Luxembourg’s former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Jüncker defeated French European Commissioner for internal market and services Michel Barnier (245 votes).

This vote is but the next step for a man whose political aura grew alongside the development of the EU. A development he also spearheaded. Born in December 1954 in Redange-sur-Attert (Lux.), a graduate in law from the University of Strasbourg, his election to the Luxemburgish Parliament as member of the Christian Social People’s Party launched his political career. After serving in various Luxemburgish ministries (Minister for Finance, Labour and Budget) and leading the Economic and Financial Affairs Council which co-authored the economic and monetary union sections of the Maastricht Treaty, he was nominated as Luxembourg’s Prime Minister in 1995. Remaining in office until 2013 he became one of the longest serving Prime Ministers of the European Union. His knowledge of financial affairs and EU circles also proved essential during his office as first President of the EuroGroup between 2005 and 2013. His European involvement was topped in 1998 with the granting of the Vision for Europe Award in “recognition of outstanding achievements in taking Europe into the future”. It is an award he shares with Jacques Santer, Helmut Kohl, Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Trichet and… Guy Verhofstadt, his future Liberal contender in the forthcoming 2014 European elections.

However, let’s not be fooled. Mr Juncker’s nomination as EPP leader for the elections is a sign of the party’s doubts. In his acceptance speech last week he was the first to stress the difficulties ahead: “We have to explain why the EU is not a phenomenon of the past but a need of the future”. In the midst of the worst economic crisis the EU has ever faced, with polls suggesting the lowest turnout to an election which usually does not impassion EU citizens, the conservative members of the EPP need strong leadership. And there is no doubt that Mr Juncker’s aura, knowledge and connections in EU circles will prove useful to a euro-party which needs to explain to people the reasons to current austerity measures in Europe and why their votes are essential to pursue the construction of an ever more intricate and politically united European Union.

The EPP can currently align 270 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) against 218 for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) led by European Parliament president Martin Schulz and 75 for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party (ALDE) led by Guy Verhofstadt. The 22-25 May elections will see the renewal of the mandates of the 750 MEPs and the leading party in the European Parliament will get the first chance to compose and submit a Commission to the European Council. With 13 seats of the Council held by EPP-friendly leaders, an EPP victory in May is likely to result in the nomination of Mr Juncker as President of the Commission in November 2014.

The elections start looking like a race against the clock for an EPP that needs to convince the 500 million Europeans to support their political manifesto adopted in Dublin last week. Among the main measures are economic reform, growth-friendly budget consolidation, job creation, financial market reform and support to the European currency1. Insisting on its decisive actions in the field of unemployment, growth and jobs creation, the euro-party plans on strengthening European R&D, securing SMEs, developing the digital agenda, enforcing the green energy and climate change agenda, fighting tax evasion, tax fraud and rogue banking practices and reforming the Single Market. Reaffirming the ideas of individual freedom, dignity and stability in an ever-changing world whose globalised waves shatter the neighbouring shores of the EU in Ukraine, Turkey and North Africa, the EPP seeks to reassure and remobilise a scattered electorate which is quick to use the EU as a scapegoat for its current structural, institutional and political problems.

Tout un programme” some might say. An agenda whose promotion will require all of Mr Juncker’s talent.

1 Full manifesto text available online at : http://dublin2014.epp.eu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/EPP-Manifesto.pdf

The image “Jean-Claude Juncker” courtesy to European People’s Party via flickr.com, released under creative commons 2.0 generic. The image has not been altered.

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