LONDON: European leaders will hold an unprecedented vote on whether Jean-Claude Juncker becomes the next president of the European Commission after British Prime Minister David Cameron insisted on such a ballot yesterday, Cameron’s office said.
For the first time, the British leader’s spokeswoman refused to rule out the possibility that he would recommend a “No” vote to staying in the European Union in a referendum he has promised for 2017 if he is re-elected next year.
Cameron’s demand for a vote on Juncker, made at a tense meeting with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, sets the stage for an ill-tempered showdown when EU leaders meet in Belgium to discuss the matter on Thursday and Friday.
The outcome could highlight Britain’s isolation and show voters back home that the prime minister, under pressure from Eurosceptics in the rising UK Independence Party and his own Conservative party, is determined to fight to change the EU.
However by raising the stakes in a battle he cannot win, Cameron risks pushing Britain closer towards the EU’s exit. “The talks were full and frank,” Cameron’s official spokeswoman said of the meeting with Van Rompuy.
“The prime minister explained that his view would not change. The prime minister asked President Van Rompuy to prepare the European Council for a vote on Juncker’s nomination, should the European Council choose to depart from a consensus-led approach when it meets this week,” she said. Van Rompuy had agreed “to work through how a vote would proceed”.
Van Rompuy’s office declined to comment. Cameron told reporters before the meeting he was determined to put fellow European leaders on the spot so they would have to “make up their mind whether to do what their heart and head tell them or not”. His confrontational strategy reflects deep frustration in London after the collapse of efforts to build an alliance against the 59-year-old former Luxembourg prime minister, a veteran centre-right EU deal-broker.
Asked whether Cameron was threatening to campaign for a “No” vote, the spokeswoman earlier told a briefing: “The elected national leaders of the European council need to think about the fact that over the next two-and-a-half years, if the prime minister is re-elected and therefore there is a referendum in this country, that clearly the decisions taken by the EU in that period will affect British voters’ views of the EU and is likely to affect the way they vote in any such referendum.”
Britain believes Juncker’s federalist views mean he is not the right person to drive reforms that Cameron has promised to deliver before giving Britons an in/out vote in 2017. Reuters