The outgoing President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said on Friday he regretted the fact that the European Council on Tuesday proposed, as his replacement, a candidate from outside the European Parliament’s list of favourites.
Juncker said at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, that the procedure “has not been very transparent”, whereas the one leading up to his candidature in 2014 was transparent “because we had the main candidates (Spitzenkandidaten)” of the political groups in the European Parliament.
Noting that the candidates of the PPE and S&D blocs, Manfred Weber and Frans Timmermans, did not have enough support in the Council, the European leaders on Tuesday proposed the name of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen. She still needs an absolute majority in the European Parliament to be elected.
For Juncker, the Spitzenkandidat process now belongs to the past. He said he had told the European Council that he had always had the impression that he would go into the history books, but not in this way. “I was the first and last Spitzenkandidat,” he quipped.
Regarding the presidency of the Council of the European Union, which Finland took over on 1 July from Romania, Juncker said he placed much hope in it. “Finland has behaved like a founding member of the Union, whereas founding members are not always behaving like founding members,” he said.
The Commission President, who is from Luxembourg, was accompanied at the press conference by Finland’s Social Democratic Prime Minister Antti Rinne. He expressed optimism that the European foundation of social rights would be developed.
Describing the fight against climate change as “urgent”, Juncker congratulated Finland’s Prime Minister and Government for making it one of their big priorities. It must be definitively established that Europe needs to be climate neutral by 2050, he stressed, adding that Finland was showing the way because it will be climate neutral by 2035.
Other priorities Finland has set itself relate to its 2021-2027 budget programme, defending European values and protecting the rule of law, namely by means of conditionalities for obtaining European subsidies.
The Council of the European Union, whose presidency is held on a rotating six-month basis, is tasked with making sure that issues move forward at the ministerial level, while the European Council, to be headed by Belgium’s Charles Michel from December 2019, coordinates issues submitted to the Heads of State and Government.