LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron is ready to force fellow EU leaders to vote on who should head the European Commission in a last ditch attempt to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, Downing Street sources said yesterday.
Cameron, who views the former long-serving Luxembourg prime minister as a federalist who will not adopt the modernising reforms he says the European Union badly needs, has vowed to “fight this right to the very end”.
European centre-left leaders meeting in Paris on Saturday agreed their support for Juncker, the candidate of Europe’s centre-right bloc, and the issue is set to dominate a two-day summit of all 28 EU leaders starting on Thursday.
Cameron, who leads Britain’s centre-right Conservatives, wants a delay in the nomination process in an effort to find a consensus candidate. “British officials have been clear... that if there was the political will to find consensus then the decision on commission president could and should be delayed,” a Downing Street source said.
“But if leaders are not even willing to consider alternative names, despite their widely expressed misgivings, then a vote should take place.” The prime minister is due to meet with EU Council President Herman van Rompuy today in London, where he will press his case.
Previously, EU leaders agreed the candidate for the presidency among themselves. But under new rules they have to now “take into account” the results of European parliamentary elections last month.
Juncker is the chosen candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP), a grouping of centre-right parties which is largest single group in the European Parliament. Cameron’s Conservatives were part of the EPP but he withdrew them in 2009, saying its federalist views were at odds with Tory policy.
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski — whose party is a member of the EPP — suggested last week that Cameron’s decision five years ago is now costing him. “The conundrum that we are seeing now shows that these European political parties are quite important, and that it is important to be a member of one of the major factions because then you have more influence,” Sikorski said.
However, he told Sky News on Sunday that there was still “every room for influencing Juncker’s programme, and Juncker’s team.”
Cameron is determined to fight Juncker’s appointment because he sees him as an obstacle to achieving reforms that he believes are necessary to the EU — and which he has promised to British voters.
The prime minister has pledged to renegotiate London’s terms of membership with the EU and hold an in/out referendum by 2017, provided his party wins next year’s general election.
Britain argues that having an EU insider such as Juncker in the commission’s top job will further alienate voters who have already deserted mainstream parties in droves to support eurosceptic and far-right groups in the EU parliament elections.
An Opinium survey in The Observer newspaper yesterday found that 48 percent of Britons would “definitely” or “probably” vote to leave the EU, while 37 percent said they would definitely or probably vote to stay in.
If Cameron secured a deal which “redefined the terms of Britain’s membership”, then 42 percent would likely vote to remain in the EU, with 36 percent likely to vote the other way. But just 18 percent thought it likely that Cameron would be able to secure “satisfactory” terms, with 55 percent saying it was quite or very unlikely. AFP