IEP Lunch Debate with Prof. Dr. Martin Selmayr: “Current Challenges for the Juncker Commission”

Martin Selmayr and Katrin Böttger
Martin Selmayr and Katrin Böttger

Prof. Martin Selmayr, Head of Cabinet to the President of the European Commission, gave a lecture in the Representation Office of the European Commission in Berlin on 1 June 2015 on the topic “Current Challenges of the Juncker Commission.” Elisabeth Kotthaus, of the Political Affairs Department of the Representation Office of the EU Commission in Germany, began the discussion with a welcoming speech. The event was moderated by Dr. Katrin Böttger, Deputy Director of the Institut für Europäische Politik.

Prof. Selmayr opened his lecture with a description of three unique characteristics of the Juncker Commission. Of these, it is not only the personage of Jean-Claude Juncker himself, an eminently experienced European politician, but also the unusual process by which he was installed in office that stands out. According to Prof. Selmayr, Juncker was the first Spitzenkandidat with a program outline to be elected as President of the Commission – a decision which was made more politically than others before, Selmayr underscored. As the third unique characteristic, Selmayr emphasized the new structure of the Commission. With the redefinition and strengthening of the Office of the Vice President, Juncker created a new level of the hierarchy that would be responsible for specific core topics. As formed, the “matrix structure” would help to coordinate between the various functional departments and to make possible compromises in advance. According to Selmayr, this would increase the efficiency of the Commission enormously.

In the second segment of his lecture, Prof. Selmayr addressed the five biggest challenges of the Juncker Commission: the economic development of Europe, the foreign and security policies of the EU, the refugee crisis, the British question, and finally the Greek crisis. With regard to economic development, Prof. Selmayr said that the European Union must create a general framework in order to overcome the after-effects of the financial crisis – Juncker’s investment plan would be a first step in this. Europe’s most important asset is, however, its internal market, as Selmayr emphasized. Three projects would have to be promoted and expanded in order to make possible its unfettered functioning: the digital internal market, the energy union, and the capital market union. Alongside economic effects, foreign and security policy plays an important role for the EU Commission, particularly in regard to the Ukraine Crisis. Here, Selmayr placed the self-conception of the EU as a “soft power” in the foreground. Correspondingly, the EU must react to Russia’s continued activity in the Ukraine crisis with diplomacy and financial support for the stabilization of Ukraine. As for the third urgent problem facing the Juncker Commission, Prof. Selmayr turned to the question of refugees, intoning that the fundamental principle of solidarity obligates us not to turn them away. At the same time, he emphasized that responsibility lies with all the EU member states as to the division of refugees and asylum seekers, and that a common solution is of the greatest significance. Regarding the British question, the fourth challenge of the EU commission, the goal should be to keep Great Britain in the European Union. Certain reforms however, which directed the focus of the Union more towards economics and migration, are definitely in Juncker’s interest. It remains an open question whether a change to the constitution would be necessary here, something that Selmayr did not categorically rule out, but nevertheless judged as very difficult. Lastly, Selmayr addressed the fifth challenge, the Greek crisis. From an economic perspective, Greece should not have been accepted into the Eurozone, but the European Union does not function as a purely economic body. Rather, it is also a political body, which Selmayr particularly emphasized. But neither is the expulsion of Greece an alternative. The hitherto provided credit would not have cost the German taxpayer a cent. On the other hand, if Greece were to leave the Eurozone and the European community, it would result in the nation’s bankruptcy. The European Union would therefore see it as its duty to provide developmental assistance in the form of financial aid, which would be far more expensive for Europe than the hitherto provided credit. Furthermore, the currency union should be irreversible and the Euro along with it, as strong as can be. Alongside the five greatest challenges to the EU Commission is Juncker’s most important concern: in the aftermath of the crisis, to reconcile a disunited Europe with himself and to win back the trust of its citizens.

In the following lively discussion with the public, there was an opportunity not only to talk about the topic of digital security and data protection in German and Europe, but also to discuss the new structure of the Juncker Commission. The concern that this would create only rivalry in place of efficiency was refuted by Dr Selmayr with the theory that only in a “creative competition” can the best solutions be achieved. The estimation of some of the attendees that Juncker might be strong, even while not enjoying the same support from France and Germany as his successor, was firmly dismissed by Dr Selmayr. Additionally, he said that good relationships with all 28 member states are important, and not only with Germany and France, but that in any case the relationship between France, Germany, and the Commission in fact functions very well, perhaps even better than in years before. After all, he said, it was Chancellor Merkel who had recommended Juncker as the Spitzenkandidat of the European People’s Party before the European elections.

By Magdalena Patalong and Hunter Hampton