Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed as European commission president

Former Luxembourg prime minister wins 422 votes from 751-seat parliament as focus moves to filling other top EU roles

Jean-Claude Juncker, the controversial choice to head the EU executive for the next five years, has been confirmed as next president of the European commission by a comfortable majority of MEPs in the new European parliament.

Vehemently opposed by David Cameron – who was joined only by Hungary in opposing Juncker's appointment 10 days ago – the former Luxembourg prime minister was supported by the EU's 26 other national leaders. His endorsement is followed by a special EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday at which government chiefs will seek to fill a clutch of top jobs becoming vacant later this year.

In a 47-minute speech before a secret ballot – which he won with 422 votes in the 751-seat chamber, 46 more than the absolute majority needed – Juncker made overtures to Christian and social democrats, the two biggest blocs in the Strasbourg chamber, as well as to liberals and greens.

Heckled by the strong Eurosceptic contingent in the parliament, Juncker strongly defended the euro, arguing that through years of crisis that nearly tore the union apart, the single currency had prevented the big member states from going to "monetary war" with one another.

Pledging to promote economic growth and kick Europe out of an unemployment crisis, Juncker called for "the reindustrialisation" of Europe and vowed to find €300bn for investment in infrastructure and jobs over his five-year term.

He made no mention of his previously stated intentions to pursue a new deal with Britain and Cameron, aimed at keeping the UK in the EU.

Mainstream parliamentary leaders lauded the former Luxembourg prime minister, dubbing Tuesday a "historic day" in Europe because for the first time the parliament rather than the EU's national leaders had called the shots in deciding who should lead the commission.

The focus will now turn to Wednesday's summit of national leaders which will wrestle over who will fill the top jobs in running the EU.

The summit is certain to name a successor to Britain's Lady Ashton as Europe's foreign policy chief. The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is energetically pushing his foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, for the job. The Italian is the frontrunner and ticks two boxes by being a woman and a social democrat, but has little foreign policy experience.

On one of the biggest issues facing Europe – policy towards Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin of Russia – she and Italy are seen as being overly pro-Russian, raising hackles, especially in eastern Europe where Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, would also like the job. The two may cancel each other out, leaving the way clear for Kristalina Georgiyeva of Bulgaria, the well-regarded development commissioner, to take the job. The choice will say much about Europe's foreign policy ambitions.

"Signs are that EU member states are again focusing more on a potential nominee's gender, political orientation and geographical origin, than on qualifications for the job," said Michael Leigh, a former senior commission official.

"EU leaders must set aside their habitual politicking and summon the courage to appoint an experienced senior foreign policy practitioner," he told the EurActiv website on Monday. "The appointment of a convincing European figure as foreign policy chief will help to confound the image of a continent turned in on itself with declining influence in the world."

That imperative, however, may fall victim to the primacy of national horse-trading and attempts to square several concentric circles.

The summit may struggle to agree quickly on the other far-reaching changes; Juncker's new team at the commission and who should succeed Belgium's Herman Van Rompuy as European council president, chairing the summits and mediating between EU capitals.

The Juncker confirmation marked two firsts in the EU: the first time the national leader of a big member state, such as Britain, had been ignored in the choice of commission president; and the first time the parliament, following elections in May, effectively dictated the nomination to Berlin, Paris, London and other EU capitals.

The bigger issues turn on the nature of the new commission, the changes Juncker might engineer, how many women he is able to install in top jobs, and on the other posts being vacated in October by Van Rompuy and Ashton, as well as establishing a new permanent president of the eurogroup, the committee of the 18 finance ministers of the single currency countries. The latter post is expected to go to Spain's finance minister, Luis de Guindos.

The key criteria for the jobs are not meritocratic, but revolve around a fragile political balance between right and left, male and female candidates, east and west Europeans, big and small countries.

Juncker is struggling to get enough women in his commission team. If he does not manage to appoint at least 10 women in a commission of 28 the parliament could reject his team in September. He was not helped on Tuesday when Cameron named Lord Hill as the UK's commissioner designate.

The German and French nominees for the new commission are the incumbent energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, and Pierre Moscovici, France's former finance minister.

The British want to secure an important economics portfolio in the commission, such as the single market. Given the uncertainty over Britain's future in the EU and the tough negotiations likely to consume much of the next three years, Cameron's choice of Hill is potentially fateful. He is seen as a conciliatory figure rather than a Conservative party Eurosceptic, keen to work with Juncker and build alliances on Cameron's EU reform agenda, according to British diplomats.

The summit may shelve naming a Van Rompuy successor until after the summer break as that person does not need to go before parliamentary confirmation hearings in September. The frontrunner is the Danish prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a social democrat. Paradoxically, she enjoys greater support on the right – from Cameron and Angela Merkel of Germany – than on the left, where the French president, François Hollande, only gave up blocking her last week as part of a deal that assumes Moscovici gets the plum commission post in charge of economic and monetary affairs.

Senior diplomats say Cameron and Merkel have also been trying to coax Mark Rutte, the liberal Dutch prime minister, into replacing Van Rompuy. But he is said not to want to switch to Brussels. He is seen as a Eurosceptic and lacking in diplomatic subtlety.


Ian Traynor in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

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