Is Merkel damaged by the EU's Juncker row?

File photo: Angela Merkel, 24 June 2014 Angela Merkel's judgement has been questioned by the German press

In the battle over who should become the next president of the European Commission, David Cameron is depicted as the loser - "isolated", "incompetent", a serial mis-reader of Brussels politics.

Yet David Cameron is not alone in finding himself in a corner, defending a position he cannot retreat from.

Several leaders who doubted whether Jean-Claude Juncker was the best candidate for the job are now uncomfortably lining up behind him.

But Angela Merkel's position is almost as uncomfortable as that of David Cameron. Frau Europe's authority has been damaged.

It was not just that she was forced to back down when she suggested other names apart from that of Mr Juncker should be considered for the top job.

She flinched as some outraged German columnists pointed out that during the campaign she had told voters the election would determine the next Commission president.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the G7 Summit held at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 5 June 2014 Downing Street feels that Ms Merkel has expressed different views in public and in private

Although I believe it is reparable, there is new tension to the German-British relationship.

Downing Street firmly believes it had received assurances from Chancellor Merkel that the Juncker issue would be fixed. Her advisers say that her position was made more difficult by the prime minister's veiled threats about Britain leaving Europe.

Unusually, even at home, Angela Merkel's judgement has been questioned.

One German commentator said that she "looked almost lost, tugged here and there by forces that she does not control".

Certainly she has lost out on what for her are important points of principle.

She has long believed that big countries such as Germany and Britain should not be steamrollered during the major arguments. Britain's objections look set to be ignored.

'Worst possible mistake'

Although much of the German political establishment has seen a strengthening of the European Parliament as one answer to the EU's democratic deficit, Chancellor Merkel is said to be uncomfortable at a shift in power towards the European Parliament which could weaken the ability of heads of government to define the agenda.

There is already a fall-out from the battle over the Commission presidency.

The centre-left in Europe, led by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and President Francois Hollande of France, have seized an opportunity to push their case for a change of course in Europe. Yes, they have agreed to back Mr Juncker but in exchange for a commitment to support their growth agenda.

The centre-left wants a more flexible interpretation of the EU's budget and deficit rules.

File photo: Jean-Claude Juncker of the European People's Party leaves the party's headquarters in Brussels, 26 May  2014 Mr Juncker has sought to reassure Germany that the Stability Pact will not be changed

Mr Renzi has turned on what he calls the "high priests" of austerity and has warned "there can be no stability possible if there is no growth in Europe".

These moves have clearly rattled the German government. The powerful German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said that EU members should "stick to the rules we jointly drew up. Nothing more, nothing less".

He went on to say that "running up new debt would be the worst possible mistake we could make".

The head of the Bundesbank Jens Weidmann has weighed in arguing that an easing of the budget rules "could trigger massive shocks" in the eurozone.

Mr Juncker, to reassure the Germans, has said that "it will not be the case that the Stability Pact will be changed", but seems set to explore some of the flexibility in the wording.

But it only underlines how a president of the Commission essentially selected by the parliament will be drawn into political battles.

It may be one of those unintended consequences but the arguments over the EU's top jobs have opened up new divisions over the budget rules and, this time, Angela Merkel's authority is less certain.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    This is a battle for power.

    Merkel has lost a couple of crucial battles The treaty did not say EU parliament picks the EU president, it is now being re-interpreted so that they do

    If UK can be ignored then so can Germany DC should make it clear that in future if Germany wants to stop something crucial to its interests, Germany will not have UK support

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    @114. GuvNOR

    You appear to be unaware that we are a net contributor (one of few) and if we left the EU it would be unable to continue in its current form.
    The only reason that Cameron is not getting ALL that he wants is that the EU does not think he will back up talk with action

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    62.florere says: "..There are almost as many British living in Europe as there are Europeans living in Britain, if we come out there are going to be a lot of very angry and broke people flooding back into Britain".

    I strongly suspect that IF, there was a Brexit, the only angry Brits returning to the UK are UK MEPs and those made redundant from the EU bureaucracy in Brussels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Who cares let us (UK) vote on the EU now !

    I voted for a common market and that was it I have been,along with the rest of the UK, denied my say to long. I can make my own decision just as well as MP's. Stick to putting the Pro's and Con's.

    The EU could vote Donald Duck as President I don't care.We(UK) want our vote NOW before the next election or do it at the same time as the Gen Election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    One of the weird and yet defining characteristics of the soviet union was that leaders claimed to be democratically elected, and everywhere they went there were crowds of card carrying party members, cheering their praises relentlessly. Meanwhile, everybody else considered the whole process a big, ugly joke.
    Junker is straight out of the soviet play book. He is a party man, nobody else knows him.


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