BRUSSELS: A bitter row over the top EU job escalated yesterday after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron had what officials called “candid” talks on the hotly debated issue.
London objects to Merkel’s favoured candidate to become the next European Commission chief, former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, on the grounds that he supports further political union in the 28-member bloc.
A spokesman for Cameron said he met Merkel at Britain’s EU office in Brussels after a dinner for leaders of the Group of Seven industrialised nations.
“Their discussions focused on the next European Commission — the issues it should focus on and the appointment of the next president,” the spokesman said.
But a source in Cameron’s Downing Street office indicated that the meeting between Merkel and Cameron, normally fairly close allies in Europe, had not gone as smoothly as planned.
“They had friendly, candid and constructive discussions in keeping with how their bilaterals usually are and in the spirit of finding consensus,” the source said. In diplomatic-speak, “candid” is often used to refer to an unusually frank exchange of views.
Cameron also spoke to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, EU President Herman Van Rompuy and outgoing European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on the issue, Cameron’s spokesman said.
The row over the next European Commission chief increasingly threatens to plunge the EU into chaos as it seeks a replacement for Barroso, who is due to leave the post in November.
EU leaders have traditionally named the Commission head on their own, but under new rules they now have to “take into account” the results of European parliamentary elections last month, though exactly what that means remains unclear.
Juncker, the former head of the Eurogroup of nations that use the single currency and prime minister of Luxembourg for 19 years, was the chosen candidate of the centre-right bloc that won most seats in the parliamentary elections.
Cameron, wary of Juncker’s federalist stand, later said he wanted a reformist candidate, while dodging the issue of whether he had rowed with the German chancellor. He said the EU could not “stick its head in the sand” after eurosceptic and far-right parties made major gains in last month’s European parliament elections.
“That’s why I think it’s important that we have people running institutions of Europe who understand the need for change, the need for reform,” he told a news conference at the end of the G7 summit.