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EU's Juncker wins approval with 'grand coalition' program

Updated: 2014-07-16 10:53
( Agencies)

"We'll fight you"

EU leaders will hold a summit on Wednesday to nominate a successor to European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who will also serve as first vice-president of the Commission.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini is front-runner and an Italian minister said Rome would seek to force a vote to appoint her if Poland and Baltic states, which see her as soft on Russia over Ukraine, raised objections.

The leaders may postpone the choice of a successor to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who chairs their summits, until after the summer break, the diplomats said.

Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is widely seen as the leading candidate but France may object since her country is not in the euro zone, and the role also involves chairing summits of the currency area.

Juncker said he was pressing EU leaders to offer more women candidates to give the Commission a better gender balance. Nine women sat in the outgoing 28-member executive. European Parliament President Martin Schulz said lawmakers would reject the full Commission if it only contained the three or four women proposed so far.

The increased Eurosceptic contingent made its presence felt in the debate on Juncker's appointment but eschewed the protest gestures that marked this month's inaugural session.

Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, said: "What is clear is you are going to carry on with the process of the centralisation of powers. We are being asked to vote for the ultimate Brussels insider, somebody who has always operated with dark, backroom deals and stitch-ups."

France's Marine Le Pen, speaking from the back benches after her anti-immigration National Front failed to find enough allies to form a parliamentary group, said Juncker stood for a self-perpetuating elite carving up top jobs among themselves.

"You weren't elected by the people," she said. "We'll fight you and your institutions. Patriots are now in the majority."

Juncker said he did not want Le Pen's vote because she stood for "exclusion and rejection".

Juncker said euro zone countries should get financial incentives if they make ambitious structural economic reforms, funded by the creation of a separate budget for the 18 countries in the currency area.

He also promised greater transparency in talks between the United States and the European Union to establish a trade and investment pact, which face strong public opposition in some EU countries. He said he would defend European health, labour and environmental standards in the negotiations.

He also vowed to protect public services in Europe from what he called "the whims of the age" - an apparent reference to privatisation and restrictions on state aid.

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