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Merkel meets Juncker-sceptics at mini-summit

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Merkel meets Juncker-sceptics at mini-summit
Merkel with Cameron, Reinfeldt (c) and Rutte (r). Photo: DPA
15:11 CEST+02:00
Chancellor Angela Merkel met the leaders of Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden at a mini-summit at the Swedish Prime Minister's summer residence on Monday and Tuesday.

The German leader has already been photographed in a rowboat with Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, as jokes inevitably flourished on social media about the direction of the 28-nation union and the necessity of life jackets to avoid disaster.

The tweet reads: Merkel in a boat with Sweden's Reinfeldt. Course not yet known. She's wearing a life vest. Sensible foresight?

As far as direction goes, the official agenda for the two-day summit reads like a wish list from the four free market-friendly countries for leaving behind six years of unrelenting crisis.

Reinfeldt, Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron and Dutch leader Mark Rutte plan to discuss job creation and growth, structural reforms to bolster EU competitiveness, and measures to boost free movement within the Union.

But commentators also expect the name of Jean-Claude Juncker to loom large at the Swedish PM’s Harpsund estate. The German Chancellor has publicly endorsed the appointment of the European People’s Party Spitzenkandidat to take over as president of the EU Commission from José Manuel Barroso but is known to have serious reservations. 

She appears likely to get alternative recommendations in spades from the British, Dutch and Swedish leaders, all of whom are sceptical of the new nomination process and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister’s suitability for the role.

"Merkel will be in a difficult position when it comes to Juncker. It is quite well known that he is not her ideal candidate," Michael Wohlgemuth, director of think-tank Open Europe Berlin, told The Local.

"She would have preferred someone like Christine Lagarde; and she does not want to isolate Cameron on this important question. But at the same time she will have to stick to her endorsement of Juncker.

"This means that there could be a qualified majority decision in the European Council. A blocking minority might still emerge if, say, Italy or perhaps France do not support Juncker. Then Merkel would be off the hook."

"But since this seems unlikely at the moment, it might be wise to discuss other top-jobs and priorities in the EU – while hoping that Juncker may eventually drop out of the race as his own decision."

Swedish political scientist Ulf Bjereld, a professor at Gothenburg University, said the Sweden summit could help ease Merkel out of a tight spot, with her host potentially acting as a middle man for Cameron, whose plans for an in-out referendum on the EU have infuriated Europhile Germans.

“If there's to be a compromise candidate then it's better that it comes from Reinfeldt than Cameron. It Cameron has a suitable candidate in mind, it would be easier to get Merkel to comply if the idea is not formulated by Cameron,” he told The Local.

With Reinfeldt almost certain to lose a general election this September, it’s even conceivable that he could enter the fray, said Bjereld.

"It's not likely that Reinfeldt will become the president of the European Commission... but it's not impossible.

"We already know he's a good team player, he's respected far and wide among the EU states, and his record with Sweden's public finances has been exceptionally strong through the financial crisis and beyond," he told The Local.

The leaders decided on the joint summit last winter to discuss their common goals; Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are all represented on the World Economic Forum’s list of the ten most competitive countries.

The leaders will stay the night in Sweden, and will hold a joint press conference together on Tuesday morning.  

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