“Coup from above”? Anti-federalist forces in the European Council

Anyone who took Magyar Nemzet seriously would think that Viktor Orbán is not only the strongman of Hungary but also of Europe. A great statesman who is jealously guarding the rule of law in the European Union. According to Magyar Nemzet, Jean-Claude Juncker’s bid for the presidency of the European Commission is down the drain. On the other hand, several commentators (for example Julian Priestley, the former secretary-general of the European Parliament) think it likely that in the final analysis Juncker will be in charge of the European Union for the next five years. We can, however, expect a protracted political fight between the European Council and the European Parliament.

The issue, as far as I can see, brings into focus two vitally important issues: first, the supremacy of the elected European parliament vs. the heads of member states and, second, the very future of the European Union itself.

This is the first time that the European Parliament has an important role to play in the elections and the choice of candidates for president. The leading members of the European Parliament wanted to democratize the election process and run a campaign with the names and pictures of the candidates (commonly known as “Spitzenkandidaten”) heading the party lists. In early March the European People’s Party chose Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg, as their man while Martin Schulz was chosen by the socialists. Since as the result of the election the EPP will again be the largest party in the European Parliament, the assumption in parliament is that it will be Juncker who will lead the Union. All the party leaders of the European Parliament stand behind his candidacy.

Enter the European Council, composed of the twenty-eight heads of the member states. The president of the Council is Herman Van Rompuy. Last night these people gathered to discuss the results of the election, and it turned out that there was at least four countries that opposed Juncker’s nomination: Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Hungary. Viktor Orbán announced immediately after the election results became known that Hungary cannot support Junker’s presidency. Hungarian sources claim that the real instigator of the anti-Juncker move was not Orbán but either David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, or Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. My hunch is that it was Cameron who was most opposed to Juncker, who is known as a “federalist.” Cameron believes in a union of nation states. During the meeting Merkel, as is her wont, sat on the fence, not committing herself one way or the other. The only agreement to come out of the meeting was that the president of the European Council will negotiate with leading members of the European Parliament and the heads of states about the future president of the EU.

So, on one level the fight that is developing is between the federalists and the “states rights” advocates, while on another it is a struggle between the European Council and the European Parliament. An Austrian paper called the move coming from the European Council a “coup from above.” The coup may not succeed. As EuroActiv reported, Van Rompuy after the meeting said that this first discussion had been “useful,” which is a diplomatic euphemism for inconclusive. However, he also made it clear that he would not embark on a collision course with the European Parliament. According to a source who seemed to have been present at the meeting, Merkel apparently announced that “she is still supportive of the Spitzenkandidaten system and of Juncker,” but made no strong statements to discipline the dissidents. On the Council doorstep Merkel declared: “Jean-Claude Juncker is our Spitzenkandidat.”

Jean-Claude Juncker and Viktor Orbán are great friends here

Jean-Claude Juncker and Viktor Orbán are great friends here

Leading members of the European Parliament are outraged, including Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP group, who told Die Welt after Viktor Orbán announced his intention to pick another candidate that one simply cannot pull a new candidate out of the hat. Hannes Swoboda, leader of the Socialist and Democrats group, tweeted that it  is “absurd that Juncker has our backing to start negotiations but is blocked in the European Council by his own EPP family!” Julian Priestley expressed the opinion of many that “only if the negotiations between the European parties and the parliament fail does it become conceivable that the European Council might have to reach out for a candidate outside the election process. But they have every incentive to succeed, because what’s at stake is bringing the direction of the EU within the parliamentary system.”  And let me add that in my opinion it is essential that the anti-federalist forces are defeated on this issue and that a man is elected who wants “a more perfect union.” The British Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), said of Juncker, “there is nobody more fanatical about building the United States of Europe.” That certainly does not make Juncker a friend of David Cameron and Viktor Orbán.

What is happening at the present in the European Parliament is a “grand coalition between right and left which is taking shape, with the aim of isolating the Eurosceptics.” Not only does Schulz support Juncker, but the leader of the third largest group, Guy Verhofstadt of the liberals, also wants to join them. He emphasized that for the election of the next president they need “a stable majority, that means more than 400 seats. Otherwise it will depend on the backing of parties such as those of Mr. Orbán or Mr. Berlusconi.”

There is at least one Hungarian commentator, Gyula Hegyi, who claims  in his article “Juncker-Orbán 2:0” that Cameron and Orbán lost this match. Hegyi used to be a socialist MEP, but in the last five years he has been working for László Andor, commissioner for employment, social affairs, and inclusion. In his interpretation it is true that at the Tuesday night meeting no decision was reached, but those present admitted that the results of the election must be taken into consideration. They also took cognizance of the fact that Juncker is unanimously supported in the European Parliament. So, as far as Hegyi is concerned, it is a done deal. Juncker will be the candidate and will likely be elected by a large majority.

My feeling is that Hegyi and Priestley are right, but given the business practices of the European Union, it will most likely take a whole month, until the very last minute, to agree on the candidacy of Jean-Claude Juncker.

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Kirsten
Guest

I would not bet on Juncker as the candidate for presidency. Viktor Orban’s feelings are not very important in this case, it is a qualified majority among the heads of state that is necessary. The UK matters (and the Netherlands also), and I doubt that the majority of the heads of state would like to provoke the UK so obviously. The EP does have legitimacy but given the widespread abstention from voting, and the sizeable votes for the sceptics, why choose the most “integrationist” solution. So a Juncker solution appears possible only with very large other concessions towards the UK, and I cannot imagine what that might be. Perhaps Mr Rompuy will come up with a magic formula, but I am sceptical. The president of the European Commission has to cooperate with all heads of state, the other candidates suggested might be less controversial.

Kirsten
Guest

The European Parliament does not have a second chamber in which the countries would all have the same weight. There is no qualified voting in the EP, only in the decision making among the representatives of the states. So far no country is prepared to swallow decision making by simple majority irrespective of the size of the country. That is why it is no doubt good that the EP has pushed its role in this process but to automatically accept the candidate of the EP would indeed not fully reflect the actual functioning of the EU and also the ideas of a large part of the European citizens.

Istvan
Guest
I think liberals and socialists should have very serious reservations about Jean-Claude Juncker becoming President of the European Commission that go beyond the fight that is developing is between the federalists and the “states rights” advocates. There more to this than just PM Orbán’s opposition to Juncker. There is the whole story about the Luxembourg State Intelligence Service (SREL) and Juncker, along with a Parliamentary Inquiry in Luxembourg into allegations of SREL misconduct including the illegal bugging of politicians, purchase of cars for private use and allegations of taking payments and favors in exchange for access to officials. The report concluded that Juncker had to bear political responsibility for SREL’s activities, that he had been deficient in his control over the service and that he had failed to report all of the service’s irregularities to the enquiry commission. To put it simply the report stated “La responsabilité politique du premier ministre est incontestable.” In many respects Juncker functioned very similarly to how the Obama administration covered up for clearly illegal activities of the NSA in the USA in relation to domestic surveillance violations. Just for the record I don’t think Edward Snowden did the right thing in leaking everything he… Read more »
Wondercat
Guest

From Britain — back off, EU. Back off. Give us a few years during which you emphasise the freedoms that you ensure for us (freedom from war, freedom to travel and to work) and we can forget about the pettinesses of no-imperial-measurements and (in Hungary) no-home-palinka. End the Strasbourg double-capitol farce. Provide the financial details that will let your accounts (after nineteen, NINETEEN years of fiddling!) be audited and approved. Cut the numbers of Brussels employees by half and the salaries of those who remain by half.

And then come back to us to say — We’ve learnt. Give us another chance.

Do not cry EU for Hungary
Guest
Do not cry EU for Hungary

I am glad to hear that Wondercat supports the EU. It is a great institution.

Not surprisingly, the ungrateful ruler of Hungary is plotting to breach this entity.

How come that Hungary’s failed rulers always bet on the wrong side of history?

With the exception of the saintly Ferenc Deak, all other Hungarian leaders and kings were incompetent amateurs.

Lupa
Guest

“Can’t imagine how EU can lecture the rest of the world on democracy given how its leaders go about choosing the head of the Commission” — reference by E. M. to the suspicion that Juncker will not be nominated/elected.

GR
Guest
It is a farce to think the Socialists and Liberal factions support Juncker in the EP. I see right through the farce of Schulz and that other guy. They NEVER said that they support Juncker, they just said they support his right to start the negotiations first. Their childish ruse is extremely obvious. They want support for the so called “Spitzenkandidat” system and then they simply vote down Juncker when he comes up to a vote in the EP. The moment Juncker is nominated they will be against Juncker. Not publicly of course but voting is very unreliable in the EP… They will use their influence to ensure he is voted down. After Juncker is voted down Schulz will try gather the votes for himself and demand to be nominated. His reasoning will go that it was Juncker first who had the opportunity to gather the votes but he was second so now his turn is coming. The liberal leader hopes that he will also get some scraps when Schulz wins or that he is third in line and by that time everyone will be embarassed and tired so he may also be secretly hoping this works out for him.… Read more »
HiBoM
Guest

I find it rather interesting that you talk about “anti-federalist forces” whereas last week, we learned that there are “anti-federalist electorates”. Essentially, you seem to be arguing that they should be ignored for the greater good. Well, that is not what I regard as democracy and it is this attitude that is fostering support for simplistic parties like UKIP. But then again, I’m not surprised. My own love affair with the EU was deeply shaken when the Irish referendum produced a result that upset the status quo. So what did the EU do? Make the vote again until they gave the “right” answer. That is not my understanding of democracy. We are back to the famous Brecht quote: “Wouldn’t it be easier to dissolve the people and elect another in its place”?

Guest

Interesting discussion right now – obviously there are two factions here also:

The one which wants a United States of Europe (my idea too …) and those who want a Union of Nations and at the same time don’t want to follow the common rules. As I’ve said it before re Orbán:

We’re only in it for the money!

And btw that goes for Cameron too – sometimes I think that Britain really should be thrown out of (sorry, leave) the EU!

Democracy does not mean a tyranny of the minority (nor of the majority of course)!

PS:

“Leading members of the European Parliament are outraged, including Joseph Daul, leader of the EPP group …”
This also is interesting because Daul (like the Bavarian CSU) always seemed to be a big supporter/friend of Orbàn!

HiBoM
Guest

Wolfi, one of the problems is that the English don’t have any sense of European identity. I speak three European languages and have lived in mainland Europe for years on and off, but I really can’t say I feel any greater kinship with mainland Europe than I do with Canada, Australia or New Zealand. That cannot be created at gun point and I can’t see how you can create a United State of Europe unless people genuinely have some sense of Europeanness in the same way that the American states are held together because everyone sense that they are American. Perhaps in Germany, or Belgium or Luxembourg, people do have this pan-European sense, in which case the EU as you envisage it can perhaps develop. But the UK is not going to be part of such a scheme. And looking at the French election results, the French don’t have any appetite either. Incidentally, my own severe misgivings about the democratic nature of the EU is not a “right wing” attitude – I’m much more influenced by the arguments of English left wingers like Tony Benn and Michael Foot.

Guest
@HiBoM: If I remember correctly the EU founders like Schumann, de Gaulle and Adenauer had the same feeling re Britain so the UK was not included in the early attempts for a United Europe like the Montanunion etc. But for me the real problem of the Brits is their economic weakness – they still think they’re the greatest, but after the loss of their Empire they’ve been in a downward spiral economically. British companies are really laughable (with just a few exceptions) – some of that surely is due to their general idea of “we do it our way, we have our own standards”! Just one example: Many years ago I worked as an IT consultant for Opel – and the stories those guys told me about Vauxhall (their British counterpart) were unbelievable! Opel had just made the switch to front wheel drive for the smaller cars but some Germans still wanted a rear wheel drive so they repackaged some Vauxhalls as “Kadett City” – there were two engines of different power, but they had almost no common parts which made those Opel engineers (and the car repairmen too …) desperate. So in the end GM pulled the plug and… Read more »
Guest

And re the French National Front and its 25% of the votes:

The French also have a problem with immigration – they are afraid of all those poor people coming from Africa. Of course this also follows from their former Empire …

Max
Guest

As things stand now, neither Juncker nor Schultz has good chances to become head of the Commission. Cameron has phoned up the leading capitals and told EU leaders that he can not support any of the two.

As France has now officially entered a deep political crisis – and Hollande’s support hovers at 11% (!) -, Merkel has to take the UK position extremely seriously. And she does.

One should also add that Juncker had been finance minister of Luxembourg between 1989-2009. Meanwhile, it is an open secret that the Grand Duchy has been a money-laundering black hole. This story may return to haunt him, along with the SREL scandal mentioned above.

HiBoM
Guest

@Wolfi, I can’t compete with that level of profundity so I’ll let leave you in peace,

Guest

@HiBom:

I only wanted to show you what most Germans think about the EU and Britain. Now back to the current problems:

Again the “brakemen” of the EU have enough power to slow down integration it seems. Whoever will be the compromise candidate for president – (s)he will be a weak man/woman and progress will stall. I feel very sorry for this, though we Germans probably shouldn’t mind – anything new would have to be paid for by us anyway, so it’s ok if nothing happens …

But France and the UK and Hungary etc will have to think about other ways to solve their problems. Closing off the EU to anybody else is no long term solution!

And Germany will not be willing to pay even more for the weaker partners – especially Mrs Merkel’s coalition partner is really angry.

Papillon
Guest
The Hungarian government will investigate the Norwegians Funds, I think the prosecution will also have to be involved, sorry, but there is a suspicion of various unlawful activities. Gotta see clearly. Plus, Norway benefits from the EU and all those funds from Norway and other non-EU countries should therefore benefit the entire Hungarian nation. As a result, Hungary has not only the right, but an obligation to check what is going on with the Norwegians. Sorry, guys, you lost it. You thought you can defeat János Lázár. Well, an Eastern-European lawyer is tough to beat, especially as David Cameron is behind him. Hungary will simply nationalize (tax away) any funds the Norwegians sent to Hungary and the government will redistribute those funds instead to more proper Christian and conservative causes. They are poor and discriminated against (well, they receive a lot from the state, but that is not enough) by those Norwegians, who are supporting homosexuals, liberals and post-communist NGOs. This will now stop as the government is a real national government not a post-communist one. By the time the ECHR or whoever will decide about these taxes, the whole issue will be forgotten and totally rearranged, so that the… Read more »
Babilon
Guest

“But for me the real problem of the Brits is their economic weakness – they still think they’re the greatest, but after the loss of their Empire they’ve been in a downward spiral economically. British companies are really laughable ”

I don’t know you so I have no idea whether you are a German Ultra-nationalist but this is just so wrong. The UK companies are the strongest in Europe in the most important sectors, especially finances and banking. Is London Europe’s financial capital or Berlin? It’s London, nobody views Germany as even comparable.

HSBC. Barclays, Lloyds, Standard Chartered and many more. So now that we already established that the UK is the financial center of Europe let’s look at the other sectors. Tesco, Unilever, Intercontinental hotels, are good examples to show how laughable they are. Or let’s talk about the weapons industry. Or any other but you know what it all comes down to one simple fact:

The German GDP is only bigger than the UK one, because you were allowed to redraw the WWII borders and absorb a whole another country. Never forget that, which country allowed that to happen (UK).

Guest

@Papillon:

A really good satire, thanks a lot!

@Babilon:

You also made me laugh – yes, those London banks is almost all you’ve got – the other examples you gave make their money outside Britain and Unilever eg is at least half Dutch. Btw I’ve worked for them too many years ago and even then they showed me how they operated financially: The conglomerate of many companies had its profit in the Swiss or Liechtenstein associate – the production companies in Britain and Germany were always operating at a loss …

And no, I’m a European – not a German nationalist ! I’d like to be a citizen of a United Europe – I always tell my German compatriots that we’re really lucky to have made such a political and economic (and cultural) revival after
WW2. Our GDP was already bigger than Britain’s before reunification – which cost us a lot of money btw.

And now I’m off – I have to help my wife, she’s making Langaló for our family and friends – we’re in Germany right now and today is a holiday, “father’s day”.

cossack
Guest

@Babilon:

Yep, the British ‘allowed’ the German unification. Right. As if they would have bombed Berlin in 1991 to prevent that, after all the British rule Europe so if they want to do that they just do it. The British empire is over, dude, even the Scots want their own country.

qaz
Guest

There is no reason to believe that the same logic that brought a Barroso to the helm will not prevail again. He was the lowest common denominator whose main attraction was the absence of a backbone.

Maybe this is what European voters have just sanctioned: the spinelessness of an ineffectual EU that is not even capable of enforcing its basic founding principles of democracy and the rule of law. Or maybe voters did not fully understand bureaucrats ruling over the shape of cucumbers and diameters of tomatoes while wasting rare public resources and financing the rise and consolidation of a soft dictatorship.

To paraphrase Einstein: Insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over in hope of a different result.

Norman
Guest
@wolfi: about half of Papillon’s text is from the letter Lazar’s new deputy wrote to the Norwegians. It is a farce, but it is an important farce. Lazar does exactly the same as Orban: lets willing people (in the name of generous, European openness to negotiations) play their role in their own humiliation. Remember how IMF was flying back and forth, the same with the EU, certain Jews re the Holocaust year (that was a bit less successful for Orban but he has his Jewish defenders), now the Norwegians. Of course the Norwegians are generous (that is how they were educated) so they have to answer this ridiculous and outrageous letter, to which this deputy will answer again, that time with the “grave findings of the audit” and so on. The Norwegians just cannot not say anything, cannot escape the discourse the rules of which are set by Orban. Orban knows how people behave: what is people’s real nature. The Western Europeans cannot not behave gentlemanly and naively. They are almost giving themselves up for a sacrifice. Orban and Lázár are great at smelling this and they act on it and stop at nothing. It worked before, so it will… Read more »
Reason Reason Reason
Guest

Einstein’s words can be applied straight to Hungary, too.

Failed in its repeated Christian, and Socialist experiments, but hesitant to retry the only successful recipe: The European/Greco/Latin Enlightenment.

Guest

@qaz: Yes, it’s a real shame, but you’re right and said it succinctly:

“the spinelessness of an ineffectual EU that is not even capable of enforcing its basic founding principles of democracy and the rule of law”

On the other hand we’re enjoying the free trade and the easiness of travelling – and we can choose which countries to visit …

Though my wife already told me she wouldn’t mind staying in Germany all the time – it’s just that her family can’t visit us here too often.

PS and totally OT:

The langaló my wife and I made was fantastic! We had six people for lunch and they ate two trays full – nothing left …

kommentelo
Guest

Mesterházy is gone for good.

Éva, what is your opinion? Who will be the next leader of MSZP?

Who Is Afraid of United Europe
Guest
Who Is Afraid of United Europe

wolfi, I will visit you on my next trip to Tuebingen. I hope your wife’s relatives will also move to Tuebingen.

Re EU: I hope the EU will regain its sanity, and its enemies, Orban, Putin, Cameron, and even Obama will disappear in the pages of history.

Guest

Eva, thanks for that link to the German newspaper NRhZ! That book on Orbán is really scathing – maybe a bit over the top, you can’t call all of Fidesz fascist.

Reading this I also discovered that they have an article on Karl Heinz Deschner (just died a few weeks ago) who wrote a 10 volume magnus opus: “The criminal history of christianity” – parts of it were also translated into English afaik.

http://www.nrhz.de/flyer/beitrag.php?id=20391

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