By Georgi Gotev
(EurActiv) — Pressure is building on Jean-Claude Juncker to resign as President of the European Commission following the UK referendum, with the Czech Republic leading calls for him to “change the habits” of the executive after last week’s Brexit referendum in the UK.
Juncker is not the “right man for the job” and should resign, Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek said on Monday (27 June).
The Czech minister said someone in the EU institutions should take “responsibility” for last week’s vote by British citizens to leave the EU.
“Right now I can’t see the European Commission chairman as the right man for the job,” Zaorálek told Czech television.
Asked whether Juncker had decided to resign or not, EU Commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said the answer was in two letters, and the first one was “N”.
Asked by EurActiv.com about the consequences of the Brexit vote on the European Commission, Schinas replied it was not the EU executive who called the UK referendum.
“So the ones who must draw conclusions from this are the ones who called the referendum,” Schinas said.
A motion to sack Juncker?
EurActiv spoke to other diplomats from Eastern Europe, who didn’t go as far as calling for Juncker’s resignation.
But one admitted his country could join a motion to sack Juncker at a two-day EU summit opening in Brussels tomorrow (28 June) – “if there was such a motion”.
“The situation is changing by the hour. We need to send messages to our public that yes, we can change Brussels, so that it listens. There were many things done wrong and we must talk about that openly,” a diplomat from Central Europe told a group of journalists.
Juncker is blamed in particular for the harsh statements he made on Brexit – saying “out is out” – and his push to start divorce negotiations immediately with the UK.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel sees things differently and appears in no rush to pressure UK Prime Minister David Cameron to trigger Article 50, which would open a two-year negotiation process to withdraw Britain from the EU.
Asked about Juncker’s positions, the diplomat answered by saying his country backed the more moderate stance of Chancellor Merkel.
“Yes, the Commission has a responsibility in the outcome of the Brexit [referendum]. Yes, it has, it’s as simple as that,” the diplomat stressed.
He continued: “There are so many issues that frustrate people which are done by the Commission and which led to this outcome. But it’s not for me to comment whether [the solution] should be the resignation of the President, or if they would have to change their course of action. That’s for the leaders to talk about,” he said.
EU heads of state and government will discuss the Brexit aftermath tomorrow during a dinner with UK Prime Minister David Cameron. The next day, EU leaders will meet without Cameron to talk about the way ahead for the Union.
“There are quite a number of examples about the Commission not getting it right. The most visible example is the migration crisis of course. But there are other examples, if you want, we can send you a list. It will be a long list,” the diplomat continued.
“The Commission will have to change its habits. The gap is about what we do and what people thing we should be doing. It’s about closing the gap between the two. If you have a big gap, then you have huge populism. If you have a small one, then populism will be less attractive to the people,” he added.
It appears European Council President Donald Tusk will take over new responsibilities in leading the Brexit negotiations, leaving the Commission in a back seat role.
“Tusk is certainly up to the job. Our preference is that President Tusk should lead the negotiations,” the diplomat said.
Tellingly, Merkel did not invite Juncker to today’s meeting in Berlin where she will discuss the aftermath of the vote with French President François Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Council President Donald Tusk.
A source told EurActiv that Juncker was considering retiring anyway, due to health reasons.
But in the European Parliament, political groups appear united behind Juncker and appear unwilling to endorse his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans to replace him. Timmermans is a socialist, but not even the Socialist and Democrats group wants him to take over, EurActiv was told.
“Timmermans is seen as “extreme-right” in the left spectrum and a promoter of the views of the Netherlands,” a source in the Parliament said.
Juncker was designated as the front-runner for the European People’s Party (EPP) in the 2014 EU elections, an idea that was only reluctantly backed by Merkel who disliked the concept of having so-called “spitzenkandidaten”.
The three other EPP candidates were France’s Michel Barnier, Finland’s Jyrki Katainen and Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis. The latter two are currently vice-presidents of the Commission and could be considered as potential replacements should Juncker tender his resignation.
If Timmermans were to replace Juncker as Commission President, this would have a ripple effects on the other institutions. If this was the case, Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat who is President of the Parliament, would probably have to step down in favour of an EPP-affiliated colleague.