Within minutes of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the future of the European Union, they were going round in circles.
Along with Holland’s Mark Rutte, the two leaders were enjoying a ritual for guests of a Swedish prime minister at his country residence, being rowed on Lake Harpsund. With their host Fredrik Reinfeldt at the oars, the passengers appeared to be joking together as the boat slowly turned.
Hours earlier, things had been less cordial. While he was still en route, Cameron had named Merkel’s candidate for the European Commission Presidency, Jean-Claude Juncker, as unacceptable. Merkel, on arrival at Harpsund, reiterated her support. Cameron said the elected leaders of Europe -- not the European Parliment -- should choose key posts, in accordance with EU treaties.
“We should be the ones to choose who should run these institutions, rather than accept some new process that was never agreed,” Cameron told reporters yesterday. Merkel reiterated that she would “use all of my discussions” to lobby for Juncker.
The spat has exposed a rift within the 28-member bloc after a continent-wide election last month yielded a surge in anti-EU sentiment. An advocate of closer ties within Europe, Juncker was an architect of the single currency in the 1990s and at the vanguard of tackling the euro-area debt crisis.
Cameron, who opposes further EU integration and seeks to renegotiate the terms of the Britain’s membership, may have won the backing of Reinfeldt, who signaled his opposition to Juncker’s candidacy. The appointment of the commission chief should be a “balance” between European leaders and the bloc’s parliament, Reinfeldt said.
“There may be discussions when we meet, but for me, this isn’t the night when that will be decided,” Reinfeldt said. All four leaders said they would focus on policy content in Europe over the next four years.
“We will discuss above all substance, how the European institutions should look over the next five years -- growth, solid fiscal policy, the digital agenda are just some of the issues,” Merkel said. The commission post is “not a priority.”
Juncker has said he should get the job on the basis that he’s the candidate of the European People’s Party, the group of national political parties that won most seats in the European Parliament elections last month. Merkel, whose party is in the EPP, has stuck by the group’s support for Juncker.
The British premier argues the EU needs to focus on lowering trade barriers and increasing competitiveness, rather than tighter integration.
He has spoken to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Hungary’s Viktor Orban over the past few days about EU reform, his spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters in London. The support of Renzi in the European Council could be enough to give Cameron a blocking minority against a Juncker candidacy.
U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said in an interview in London he’d been making calls to European leaders to back Cameron’s opposition to Juncker. It’s a rare example of Clegg and Cameron sharing a common stance on an EU-related issue.
Cameron came out more aggressively against Juncker after the opposition Labour party also said it won’t back him.
“All major U.K. parties are now united on one point,” Cameron said in a Twitter post. “Jean-Claude Juncker should not be President of the European Commission.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org Fergal O’Brien