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Europe

UK’s Cameron headed for defeat as Juncker set for top EU job

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-06-27

European Union leaders meeting in Brussels Friday are expected to confirm their nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as the next president of the European Commission, despite fierce opposition to his appointment by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Juncker’s nomination will be discussed over lunch on the second day of an EU summit, which began on Thursday with a show of modern European unity in a ceremony in the Belgian town of Ypres to commemorate the centenary of World War One.

While decisions among EU leaders are normally taken by consensus, Cameron wants a vote on Juncker – an unprecedented move officials wanted to avoid but which now looks inevitable.

Diplomats say that if a vote is held, Britain will lose it by 26 votes to 2, with only Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backing Cameron. And even Orban’s support is not certain.

The dispute over who will lead the EU’s executive arm for the next five years has been one of the most public and personal the 28-nation bloc has experienced in a decade, damaging efforts to present a united front at a time when the bloc is recovering from an economic crisis and keen to bolster its global image.

It has even raising the risk of Britain leaving the union altogether.

‘The wrong approach for Europe’

Cameron has made his opposition to Juncker abundantly clear. He sees the former Luxembourg premier as lacking the will and the skills to overhaul the EU and has told fellow leaders they are making a mistake in backing him – warning of unspecified “consequences” if they persist.

But despite Cameron’s forthright opposition to Juncker, whose centre-right political group won European Parliament elections last month, Britain has failed to convince almost any of the 27 other member states to support its position.

Britain's aggressive approach – including highly personal attacks in the UK press – has alienated would-be allies such as Sweden and the Netherlands.

British officials acknowledge that Cameron will more than likely lose Friday’s vote, but say the prime minister is determined to make a last-ditch stand against Juncker’s nomination based on principle, opposing not only Juncker as a candidate but the process that led to his selection – giving the strongest voice not to national governments but to the EU’s legislature.

“My message to my fellow heads of government and heads of state is that this approach that they’re contemplating taking is the wrong approach for Europe,” Cameron said on Thursday as he arrived for the Ypres commemoration, where all the leaders stood shoulder to shoulder to honour the fallen in the Great War.

"They are contemplating choosing someone who I think will struggle to be the voice of reform and change in Europe. When the public in Europe and our nation states are crying out for reform, they’re about to take what I think is the wrong step.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to diffuse quarrel over Juncker, urging her peers to compromise with Cameron.

"I think we can find compromises here and make a step towards Great Britain," Merkel said. "I repeatedly spoke of a European spirit which is needed and which will help us to find good solutions."

However, French President François Hollande hinted at other states' impatience with Cameron, saying: "There comes a time when Europe needs to say what we want in terms of people and policies."

Exit risk

Opinion polls show that many British voters support Cameron taking a hard line on Europe. With the prime minister battling to shore up support for his Conservative party and facing an election next year, that popular support is critical.

But it leaves Cameron in an uncomfortable position towards his fellow leaders, many of whom are now openly concerned about the possibility of Britain moving inexorably toward the EU exit.

Cameron, many of whose own party favour a British exit from the EU, or “Brexit”, has promised voters a referendum on leaving the bloc by 2017 – if he wins re-election next year.

A key threat to his re-election is the rise of the UK Independence Party, which is campaigning for leaving the EU and which topped last month’s European Parliament election in Britain.

“We’re all now responsible for whether the United Kingdom can stay inside the European Union," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, a regular ally of London who initially sided with Cameron over Juncker. “I’ll do whatever I can for Britain to stay inside the European Union.”

The problem is that if Juncker, a veteran Brussels dealmaker who is committed to a more federal Europe, ends up heading the Commission, it will be harder for Britain to renegotiate its relationship with the EU, something Cameron has promised to do in advance of putting membership to a referendum.

British officials concede that Juncker may make it harder to get a renegotiation of membership terms and his presence may also increase the likelihood that Britons vote to leave the EU.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

Date created : 2014-06-27

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