BRUSSELS: Jean-Claude Juncker was named as the next president of the European Commission yesterday, dealing a bitter blow to David Cameron, who said it threatened to increase Britain’s chances of leaving the EU.
The British prime minister said Juncker’s nomination was a “bad day for Europe” and said it may hinder his efforts to keep Britain in Europe ahead of a slated in-out EU referendum in 2017.
European leaders now face a struggle to repair the relationship with Cameron ahead of the vote after a very public dispute which has dragged on for weeks.
“Let me be absolutely clear: this is a bad day for Europe,” Cameron told reporters. “It risks undermining the position of national governments, it risks undermining the power of national parliaments and it hands new power to the European Parliament.”
Asked if Britain was now closer to leaving the EU in a “Brexit”, he said: “The job has got harder of keeping Britain in a reformed European Union... Do I think it’s an impossible job? No.”
Cameron forced an unprecedented vote on the issue at a high-stakes Brussels summit despite having the support of only Hungary among the other 27 EU members.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who some in London blame for undermining Cameron by switching her position on Juncker, praised his experience, saying he would “listen to the wishes of the member states and the European Parliament.”
“I have a great interest in Great Britain staying a member of the European Union. In this spirit I will continue to work,” she added.
Juncker, who was prime minister of Luxembourg for 19 years, said he was “proud and honoured” by the appointment.
Leaders are expected to try and appease Cameron, potentially by offering London a top job in Brussels at a fresh summit next month which will decide a whole round of senior Brussels appointments.
But the dispute threatens to fuel eurosceptic sentiment in Britain ahead of the referendum, to be held if Cameron’s Conservatives win next year’s general election.
The disagreement over Juncker came a month after anti-EU parties made sweeping gains in European elections, with outright victories for the UK Independence Party in Britain and the National Front in France.
Merkel, Europe’s most powerful leader, has urged EU colleagues to “compromise” with Britain.
And Cameron vowed to continue pushing for reforms in Europe such as the repatriation of some powers ahead of the referendum.
“This is going to be a long tough fight and frankly sometimes you have to be willing to lose a battle to win a war,” he said. Cameron also vowed to work with Juncker, despite describing him as “the career insider of Brussels”.
A string of senior jobs in the EU are up for grabs this year which could be used in an overall package to sweeten the pill of Juncker’s nomination for Cameron.
Another summit is set to take place on July 16 to decide the positions, and analysts say a British politician could be offered a senior job.
Other compromises could include naming Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt as Van Rompuy’s successor as European Council president.