European Commission

Who are the winners and losers in a Juncker presidency?
With Jean-Claude Juncker increasingly likely to be appointed as the next president of the European Commission, Gideon Rachman is joined by Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, for an in-depth look at what this would mean for the UK and for Europe as a whole. Also on the agenda are the growing dominance of Germany in the EU decision-making process and this week’s European Council meeting in Ypres

Gideon Rachman

By Gideon Rachman
Discussing Britain’s Europe policy earlier this year, a senior adviser to the prime minister shrugged: “I know we’re accused of putting all our eggs in the Merkel basket. But, frankly, we don’t have another basket.”

By Gideon Rachman
The idea that Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next head of the European Commission evokes a strange, irrational rage in the British. I know because I share that rage. There is something about Mr Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg – his smugness, his federalism, his unfunny jokes – that provokes the British.

By Gideon Rachman
Read the headlines about political extremism on the march in the European papers this morning and you might conclude that Europe is succumbing to political hysteria. But the biggest danger is not actually hysteria, it is complacency. It is highly likely that, when Europe’s leaders meet on Tuesday night, they will attempt to shrug off the results of the European elections and retreat into politics as usual. That would be a big mistake – possibly a fatal one.

EU elections – the populists are coming
This week’s podcast explores the rise of Europe’s populist parties, and internal ructions over the election process for José Manuel Barroso’s successor as EU President. Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, and Tony Barber, Europe editor, join Gideon Rachman to ask whether strong polling for populist parties should be seen more as a threat to their domestic rivals or to the result of next week’s European elections. Also on the agenda is the fear that the disagreement between the European Parliament and heads of state over the process by which the next EU President will be chosen, is exactly the kind of internal standoff that gives eurosceptics justification for disengaging with EU politics

Tony Barber

Ten minutes into moderating Friday night’s European parliament election debate in Florence, I was gripped with the unnerving sensation that someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and murmur: “Mr Barber, where is it all going wrong?”

Voting kicks off in less than two weeks, but the big event in the Palazzo Vecchio is unlikely to have any more influence on the outcome than the opinions of Lorenzo de’ Medici in his tomb. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Guy Verhofstadt (Nicolas Maeterlinck/AFP/Getty)

The three main candidates to be the next head of the European Commission are now clear: Martin Schulz will be the left’s candidate; Guy Verhofstadt will be the standard-bearer for the liberals; and Jean-Claude Juncker will be the candidate of the centre-right, having apparently secured the all-important backing of Angela Merkel. (The German chancellor’s office has declined to confirm officially that Merkel is backing Juncker – but press reports, including in the FT, seem pretty certain.)

The most striking thing about this list is how very traditional it is. The EU has just been through a wrenching crisis that has raised questions about its very survival. And it is also now a club of 28 countries. But the three main candidates for Commission president are all traditional European federalists – drawn from the six founding member states. Read more

Tony Barber

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/GettyImages

Here is a startling prediction from the European Commission. In the absence of comprehensive economic reforms, living standards in the eurozone, relative to the US, will be lower in 2023 than they were in the mid-1960s.

This forecast, contained in the Commission’s latest quarterly report on the euro area economy, deserves to be displayed prominently on the wall of every president and prime minister’s office in Europe.

It is a sobering prediction for two reasons. First, it contrasts starkly with the comforting tales of economic recovery and financial market stability on which Europe’s leaders are congratulating themselves in these early weeks of 2014. Second, it raises profound questions about Europe’s relative weight in the world and, in particular, about its military alliance and economic partnership with the US. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ A European Commission probe into competition and price fixing in the oil market is raising questions about how much power one man’s price reporting window can have on the market, and whether greater EC regulation might worsen the problem by discouraging the availability of oil prices altogether.
♦ The Chinese decision to ban milk imports from New Zealand due to fears that some batches could contain botulism has stoked fears of wider import bans on all foreign milk going into China.
♦ Cash-for-freedom deals in the US were originally designed to funnel in badly needed cash to law enforcement budgets from white collar crimes and drug cartels, but are giving rise to corruption and violations of civil liberties.
♦ Romance is being nationalised in South Korea, where the government is taking the lead in campaigns to introduce young singles at government-sponsored parties. Corporations are also increasingly encouraging relationships in the workplace as fears mount about the shortage of workers in an aging society.
♦ In countries where the government or market fails to meet citizens’ needs, the connectivity of social media and mobile technologies is allowing individuals to build their own representative platforms to meet them.  Read more

♦ In Qatar, the emir, voluntarily resigned in favour of his 33-year-old son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as he spoke of the need for younger blood in government. This move is a sign that some monarchies are still more open to change than those in neighbouring countries like Saudi Arabia that have “hardened arteries.” Qataris debate whether Sheikh Tamim will follow in his father’s footsteps or take a more conservative, religious, or nationalistic stance, the FT reports.
♦ In Syria, the government and the rebels fight for control of the oil fields, and one gas and electricity plant is representative of the strife. Foreign Policy reports that Obama’s current strategy in Syria is contradictory, taking separate military and diplomatic courses that clash.
♦ If Edward Snowden were Chinese, Americans would respect him as a “brave dissident.”
♦ The European Commission raided the London offices of oil companies – BP, Shell and Norway’s Statoil – as well as Platts, the price reporting agency, for colluding to manipulate prices of oil on the international markets, the BBC reports.
♦ The US Supreme Court amended parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a measure that required mostly southern states to obtain Washington’s approval to change election practices because of discrimination against black voters – but some legislators now see it as an intrusion on state’s rights and no longer relevant – the Wall Street Journal and New York Times report. The Times sees this amendment as a usurpation of Congress and denial that discrimination still exists in the South on the part of the Supreme Court. For the New Yorker, it is all apart of the Republican’s systematic undermining of Democratic influence.
♦ In Foreign Affairs, the military historian Rick Atkinson gives a colourful depiction of London on the eve of D-Day. Read more