Monday, June 23, 2014

Merkel and Cameron, EU allies for neoliberal austerity programs

Along with the struggles in the eurozone over austerity policies, there is a also one over how much say the European voters should have over the selection of the EU Commission President. The President is actually selected and nominated by the EU Council composed of the heads of government of the member states, after which the Parliament must approve or reject the nominee. Under current EU rules, the Council is supposed to give weight to the selection of the voters in European Parliamentary elections like that in May. But the Council is not obliged to select one of the figures that actually ran for the office with the backing of European-wide parties.

In May, the conservative party with the Luxembourgian Jean-Claude Juncker as its EU Presidential candidate won the largest plurality, with the Social Democrats with the German Martin Schultz as the Presidential candidate coming second.

But Merkel hasn't agreed to select Junker as EU President, even though she specifically endorsed him in the election. She evidently wants to make it clear that the EU Council of states, which she presumably finds more easy to dominate than the European Parliament, is clearly recognized as far more decisive than the public vote by the citizens. And thus doesn't want to see a precedent that the voters' choice should carry any particular weight in selecting the President.

This is part of the problem called the "democratic deficit" in the EU, which Spiegel International earlier this month managed to define succinctly:

Part of her consideration is her alliance of the moment with British Premier David Cameron, who also opposes Juncker's selection, in keeping the EU a relatively weak organization dominated by, well, her. As Albrecht von Lucke explains in EU: Tage der Entscheidung Blätter 7/2014 (accessed 06/23/2014):

Hier zeigt sich: Ganz offensichtlich ist Merkel der Verbleib Großbritanniens in der EU wichtiger als deren demokratische Vertiefung. Und hier liegt die zweite Ebene der aktuellen Machtprobe, nämlich der Kampf um die künftigen politischen Inhalte der EU. Dass Angela Merkel als „die britische Kanzlerin“ agierte[7] und sich dezidiert für Großbritannien aussprach, hat einen entscheidenden Grund: Merkels Verständnis Europas deckt sich in weiten Teilen mit dem des englischen Premierministers. Merkel steht wie Cameron für ein primär an Konkurrenz und Wettbewerb orientiertes Europa, gegen eine Vertiefung der Union und für intergouvernementales Regieren. Aus demselben Grund hatte sie bereits vor zehn Jahren den bekennenden Europäer Guy Verhofstadt verhindert und José Manuel Barroso aus dem Hut gezaubert, der bis dato in Europa nur durch seine Unterstützung des Irakkriegs aufgefallen war. Obwohl die britischen Konservativen im EU-Parlament künftig mit der AfD zusammenarbeiten, will Merkel den Bruch der EU mit Cameron unbedingt vermeiden. Denn sie hat mit Großbritannien stets gerne über Bande gespielt, um die neoliberale Achse zu stärken – etwa bei TTIP oder als Gegengewicht gegen Frankreich und eine mögliche Koalition der Südländer.

Here we see: The retention of Great Britain in the EU is more important to Merkel than its democratic deepening. And here lies the second level of the current power struggle, that is, the fight over the future political content of the EU. That Angela Merkel acts as "the British Chancellor" and makes decisions and speaks out decided for Great Britain has a definite reason: Merkel's understandin gof Euorpe overlaps broadly with that of the English Prime Minister. Merkel, like Cameron, stands for a Europe primarily oriented to competition and competitiveness (Konkurrenz und Wettbewerb), against a deepening of the Union and for inter-governmental rule {i.e., the EU Council}. For the same reason, already ten years ago she blocked the professing European Guy Verhofstadt and pulled José Manuel Barroso out of her magic had {as EU President}, who until then had attracted attention in Europe only by his support of the Iraq War. Even though the British Conservatives in the EU Parliament will work together in the future with the AfD {Alternative für Deutschland, a hardline rightwing anti-European party that could take significant numbers of vote from Merkel's CDU in the future}, Merkel definitely wants to prevent the break of the EU with Cameron. She has always been glad to go the extra mile (stets gerne über Bande gespielt) in order to strengthen the neoliberal axis - for instance, with TTIP {the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership} or as a counterweight against France and a possible {anti-austerity} coalition with the southern {eurozone} countries.
A current Spiegel International report suggests that Merkel backing Cameron's anti-Juncker positions "is looking increasingly unlikely," and that Cameron may not even want Merkel's cooperation on the issue, preferring instead to posture at home as the guy who's defying the EU on behalf of British nationalism - my charaterization, not Spiegel's. (Melanie Amann et al, Commission Crusade: Cameron Outmaneuvered in Battle over Juncker 06/19/2014)

The article also reports:

More than anything, though, a European power struggle is afoot. If Cameron prevails, the European Council will continue to reign supreme and the Parliament will continue to look like little more than a European debate club. "The will of the voters is as legitimate in the EU election as it is in other elections," says Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann. "To ignore the results of the election would damage European democracy."

Early on, Merkel backed Cameron's position. At a dinner of EU leaders two days after the European election, she threatened to assemble a blocking minority together with the British prime minister. Cameron's warning -- that if Juncker was named to the position, it could accelerate Britain's exit from the EU -- had its intended effect. Almost all significant UK parties are opposed to Juncker, who they see as a European technocrat unable to reform the Commission. Only the EU-skeptic party UKIP is in favor or Juncker, say pro-EU voices in Britain, noting that a Juncker presidency would make it even easier for the party to sell its anti-Europe message.

But in Germany, the chancellor was accused of not supporting her own party's candidate and she quickly made an about face -- after telephoning with Cameron first to explain her reversal. The British prime minister was understanding, but continues to hope for German support when the time comes.
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