French President Francois Hollande will be hosting Europe’s leftist leaders on Saturday, in a mini-summit that will include Italy’s Matteo Renzi, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and Martin Schulz, the outgoing head of the European Parliament. The gathering comes a little over one month after Hollande held informal talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in an effort to ease tensions with Berlin and toe the unity line.
VISUAL CONTEXT: European Parliament elections
Saturday’s agenda: discuss the objectives of the European Commission in the wake of last month’s parliamentary elections, notably how they will take shape under the expected next president, Jean-Claude Juncker, endorsed by the European People’s Party (EPP). Despite his rightward leanings, the former Luxembourg prime minister has earned the support of the European Left — on the condition, that is, that it will be able to influence his program. Le Monde notes that the summit is likely a reaction to another pow wow held on June 10 in Sweden, which reunited several heads of state who oppose Juncker’s nomination, i.e., British Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dutch and Swedish premiers, Mark Rutte and Fredrik Reinfeldt, as well as Merkel.
Despite the opposition campaign spearheaded by Cameron, however, Juncker’s nomination looks to be a clinch (all the more since Merkel threw her weight behind the candidate) when the European Council meets on June 26 and 27 to confirm the bid. So little surprise that Europe’s social democrats are already preparing their demands, namely an emphasis on the stability pact and a plan to boost European investment and reduce youth unemployment. Expect lots of chatter as well over the favored candidates for soon-to-be empty top E.U. posts viewed as a way to offset Juncker’s influence. Here, there may be some rumblings in particular over the successor to the outgoing president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy: Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt is in the running, alongside the Italian Socialist Enrico Letta and possibly Jean-Marc Ayrault, Hollande’s former prime minister.
Such jockeying notwithstanding, look for Hollande to play nice. After all, it is no accident that Europe’s leftist leaders are meeting at the Elysée Palace in Paris. After disastrous performances by his ruling Socialists in both municipal and European elections, the French leader is grasping to rebuild his cred in Brussels. Meaning he needs all the friends he can get.