Why the new European Commission has much to Prove
Last week in Strasbourg I voted on Mr Juncker's colourful College of Commissioners. After weeks of interrogation, wrangling and re-shuffling (that continued right to the wire) the vote was a simple affair; the ayes had it.
As I had predicted, the vote was not close: 423 voted for the College, 209 voted against, with 67 abstaining. Hardly surprising with the two largest groups in the parliament in cahoots. So now 28 politicians of varying talents and experience slough off their national affiliations and emerge as fully flapping Eurocrats. The hard work begins.
Before we leave the vote though, let’s pause a moment and consider the result.
As I said, the two largest groups in the Parliament, the right of centre European People’s Party (EPP) and left of centre Socialists & Democrats (S&D) endorsed the Commission. This accounted for over 350 votes alone. No real surprise there, but worth noting that 20 socialists felt such antipathy to the Juncker Commission that they defied their whip and voted against. Interestingly, Scotland’s two Labour MEPs did not vote in tandem; Ms Stihler supported the Commission, Mr Martin abstained. The Alliance of Liberal Democrats in Europe (ALDE) also supported the Commission. So together with penny number from the other groups the tally was 423.
Ranged against the Commission were the extreme left GUE/NGL group (the ‘Gooey Group’) and the Green/EFA. Two members of the latter group did rebel: step forward Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith of the SNP, both of whom endorsed the Commission. Currying Mr Junker's favour ahead of another indie referendum, by chance?
Mr Farage’s Group ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ (EFDD) also voted against the Commission. Scottish UKIPper David Coburn MEP lightened proceedings by repeatedly barking out ‘the Marxist Brothers, the Marxist Brothers’ during the inevitable Juncker/Schulz photograph which followed the vote. The Non Inscrits (NI), those ‘extremist’ MEPs unable to find a home in the other groups such as France’s Front National, voted against the Commission too. In total 209 MEPs voted ‘No’.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted that I have not yet mentioned my own group, the European Conservatives & Reformists (ECR). The ECR group is now the third largest in the parliament, comprising 22 political parties from 15 Member States, and it continues to grow. Richard Sulík of the Slovakian Freedom & Solidarity Party is our most recent recruit. He declared his former group, ALDE, ‘a bit too left wing for his liking’. Still, I digress.
The agreed position of the ECR Group was one of abstention - too soon to give the Commission dog a bone. However the Group determined the matter too important to whip the vote; each national delegation would be free to vote as they deemed right. In the end, 37 MEPs abstained, 12 voted in favour and 20 voted against. Of the 18 British Conservative MEPs in attendance, 9 abstained, 3 voted against and 6 voted in favour.
And how did I vote? Well, I could not endorse Mr Juncker’s Commission. Too soon. Too many misgivings. It was only a few months ago the Prime Minister asked me to vote against Mr Juncker as President of the Commission. I was inclined to do so again. However, I was persuaded that an abstention, an absence of support was appropriate.
Juncker is a smart fellow, certainly smarter than his predecessor. If I hear Mr Barroso standing over the wreckage that is the Eurozone declaiming that the EU has created growth and jobs, I may have to turn off the translation. Juncker is a different character altogether, though. In uniting British Commissioner Lord Hill with the financial services portfolio, Juncker has shown himself sensitive to British concerns. Perhaps an example of the old adage, ‘be careful what you wish for’, but nonetheless a response to the requests from Number 10, and certainly a good beginning. However there is still a long way to go.
So there is no endorsement of Mr Juncker from me, but neither is there a rejection. Let’s see whether Mr Juncker is indeed the reformer that the EU is crying out for. Time will tell.