LONDON: Britain is trying to delay selection of a new European Commission President, British officials said yesterday, seeking further discussion of an alternative to the former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, London sees as a bar to EU reform.
The effort comes days before a meeting of EU leaders in Belgium on Thursday and Friday. European diplomats say momentum is building to use the occasion to choose Juncker for one of Europe’s most influential policy jobs.
The appointment has become a test of strength for Prime Minister David Cameron who has made it clear he opposes Juncker getting the post, deeming him too “federalist” and unlikely to drive EU reform.
If Cameron fails to block Juncker, his authority at home and abroad would be diminished, his pledge of trying to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties if re-elected undermined, and he could find it harder to keep his own Eurosceptic lawmakers in line.
Two British diplomatic sources told Reuters Britain was trying to get the EU not to take a decision on Juncker next week. One of the sources said Britain was arguing that the job should be decided at the same time as other top EU posts.
The current commission’s mandate expires at the end of October and Britain believes that leaves plenty of time to decide the lineup. If it could win a delay, momentum for Juncker might be lost.
“The die is not cast until the European Council (EU leaders) issue their nomination,” a spokeswoman for Cameron told reporters yesterday.
“We think that there are many possible candidates out there that we could be considering that could do the job well.”
The way the decision was being driven by the European Parliament’s preference for Juncker was “suffocating the debate”, she added, referring to Britain’s insistence that EU leaders and not the assembly choose the candidate.
How the nomination will be handled — whether there will be a formal vote on the matter or a quiet announcement — is up to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
“Our point consistently to him and other leaders has been that the European Council has traditionally approached this decision with a consensus,” said the spokeswoman.
Cameron will meet Van Rompuy in London on Monday to set out Britain’s opposition to Juncker’s possible appointment and voice his concerns about the selection process.
When there was strong opposition to Britain’s pick for the top job in 2004 - Chris Patten - his spokeswoman said London had accepted that and agreed to move on to discuss other candidates, suggesting the same should happen now.
“We recognised that there would need to be further discussions so that the Council could find consensus behind a single candidate,” she said. “We think people should be focusing on how we could find a consensual candidate.”
Cameron’s “Stop Juncker” campaign has faltered and he has so far failed to persuade other EU leaders to speak out against the Luxembourger. The fact that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel strongly backs Juncker has made his task even harder.