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Is Juncker trying to establish an EU “deep state”?

With Brexit bickering on hold at this week’s EU summit as leaders prepare for a second phase of talks, the drama will be provided instead by national capitals’ efforts to rein in what some see as a brazen attempt at overreach by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

European leaders worry that Juncker and his powerful chief of staff Martin Selmayr are trying to turn the Commission into a political “deep state,” according to officials in Brussels and national capitals.

A push by the Commission to steer EU policy, using Juncker’s State of the Union speech in September as a roadmap, has led to a power struggle in recent weeks between the Commission and the Council, but it is now fueling a backlash from EU capitals intent on reasserting their control.

n-Claude Juncker attends a plenary session on February 25, 2015 | John

With Brexit bickering on hold at this week’s EU summit as leaders prepare for a second phase of talks, the drama will be provided instead by national capitals’ efforts to rein in what some see as a brazen attempt at overreach by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

European leaders worry that Juncker and his powerful chief of staff Martin Selmayr are trying to turn the Commission into a political “deep state,” according to officials in Brussels and national capitals.

A push by the Commission to steer EU policy, using Juncker’s State of the Union speech in September as a roadmap, has led to a power struggle in recent weeks between the Commission and the Council, but it is now fueling a backlash from EU capitals intent on reasserting their control.

“It wants to be, but we are not going to allow them to be the deep state,” a senior EU diplomat said, pointing to the Commission’s ambitious package of eurozone proposals rolled out on December 6 as the most vivid example of overreach. “He is far out there, and they made a miscalculation at the State of the Union.”

From the start of his term in 2014, Juncker declared he would lead a more “political Commission” with a top-down command structure. And in recent months he has portrayed the Commission as bolder and more proactive in policymaking than the heads of state and government on the European Council, including at a digital summit in Tallinn, where the power struggle was clearly visible.

One national official said Juncker now faced a dual challenge: an unwillingness by some countries to go along with his agenda, and a separate push by French President Emmanuel Macron to pursue an ambitious program focused more on cooperation between capitals than communal action in Brussels.

“Clearly the Commission is partly motivated by its own institutional interests — that’s not abnormal,” one national official said. “A lot of member states are not as ambitious as the Commission and are not ready to follow the Commission all the way. Secondly, the main ambitious force among member states, France, wants to go down the intergovernmental path, not the communitarian. That would marginalize the Commission.” [full story politico.eu]

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