Postcard from Strasbourg by Richard Steel

Dear Fred,

When in doubt call on Frans. That certainly seems to be Jean-Claude Juncker’s motto as he heaped two more titles onto the already impressive list of jobs for his Dutch super-Commissioner, or as he prefers to call him, “my left-hand man”. Both additions were designed to keep the Socialists happy but could well come back to haunt them.

The first was to give Frans Timmermans horizontal responsibility for sustainable development, a red line issue to convince the Socialists to accept Miguel Arias Canete. The Greens however smelled a rat and asked how he could drive forward sustainable development while he was also Mr Deregulation? The second task was even more of a poisoned chalice – the controversial issue of investor protection in the US trade talks. Juncker made it clear that he could not accept that the jurisdiction of courts in the Member States be limited by special regimes for investor-to-state disputes. Read my lips, he said “there will be no ISDS clause in TTIP if Frans doesn’t approve it”. Towards the end of his speech Juncker joked that the biggest loser of his new structure “was me– I have delegated many of my powers away”. While this may seem in keeping with his more hands-off style compared to his predecessor, there may also be a more cunning ploy in handing over some political hot potatoes to his trusty lieutenant.

Jose Manuel Barroso’s penultimate week in office did not start in Strasbourg but in the BBC studios and lofty surroundings of Chatham House where he warned the British Prime Minister that tearing up the Treaty provisions on the free movement of workers was not the best way to convince his partners of the need to reform. His swansong in front of the plenary on Tuesday was a strange affair with even his supporters rather sparing with their praise. He has been around for so long that it’s hard to remember that he came to office in the days of the French non and Dutch nee to the constitution and the massive enlargement to the east. At best he seemed to have earned MEPs’ respect rather than their affection. He has shown more life in his regular spats with Nigel Farage and there was a broad grin on his face as Farage bade farewell in typical fashion, thanking him for showing Cameron who was “the real boss” when it came to dealing with immigration.

I think Farage will find Jean-Claude Juncker another interesting sparring partner and you could well imagine them enjoying a beer or two together. Much to the annoyance of the parliament’s hierarchy, Farage is still leader of the EFDD group following the convenient recruitment of a Polish right-winger that not even Marine Le Pen would accept in her group. The group is still terribly vulnerable to defections but you get the impression that once Farage has won his seat in Westminster next May,he will not really be bothered what happens to his group.

The highlight of the week of course was the vote on Team Juncker, where the grand coalition once again showed their ability to deliver the result they wanted despite the misgivings of certain national delegations. The test will now be to see if this translates into agreement on legislative matters and the 2030 climate targets could be an interesting first test. The EPP’s Vice-President for the economy and environment, Francoise Grossetete, made clear that her group would not support the parliament’s previous position of a 40/40/30 target for emissions/efficiency/renewables and that innovation, not restrictions, was the best response. The EPP will be supported by the ECR on this and know that if it comes to a vote, they have the Eurosceptic right on their side too. 

How to end? Well Barroso wrapped up his final speech with a simple “Auf wiedersehen, goodbye, au revoir, adeus”. Of course, if it had been Frans Timmermans he could have done it in Dutch, Italian and Russian too. 




Richard Steel

Senior Associate

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