Prime Minister David Cameron has overplayed the threat appointing Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the European Commission would pose to the U.K.’s European Union membership and his bluff is about to be called, said the head of Germany’s foreign affairs committee.
Norbert Roettgen, a lawmaker with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, said it would be “absurd” to make EU membership dependent on the choice of who leads the commission, and that he saw it as “a tactical exaggeration” by the U.K.
“I very much want Britain to stay in the EU,” Roettgen said yesterday on ARD television’s “Bericht aus Berlin” program, according to an e-mailed transcript. “I’m very predisposed toward them, but the British have failed to draw up a plan B. You can have a goal, but you always have to prepare for not reaching it.”
Cameron risks becoming isolated at a June 26-27 summit of EU leaders on the question of who leads the commission, the EU’s executive arm that oversees the bloc’s single market. While Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has sided with Cameron against Juncker, most other leaders have publicly voiced their support for the former Luxembourg premier.
U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne today defended his prime minister’s stance, saying it was an issue of principle, and that “privately” many other EU leaders agreed.
“The choice of who should lead the EU commission should not be for groupings in the European Parliament,” Osborne told BBC Radio 4. “We should have people leading Europe who understand Europe needs reform.”
Cameron, who is scheduled to host EU President Herman Van Rompuy for talks in London today, suggested earlier this month that failing to get his way may increase the chances of a U.K. exit from the 28-nation EU, prompting Merkel to warn against the use of “threats” to resolve disputes in the bloc.
Roettgen said that he didn’t believe Juncker’s naming to the top EU post this week would affect the U.K.’s EU membership. He also said that he didn’t think any attempt by Cameron to delay a decision to identify an alternative candidate to Juncker would succeed.
“Stalling is not what we need right now in Europe,” he said.
Diplomacy is intensifying before the summit, when the EU’s 28 leaders are due to discuss appointments to top commission posts and the bloc’s agenda for the coming years.
French President Francois Hollande held a weekend meeting with Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and other Socialist leaders, saying that all agreed they want Europe to shift its focus to bolstering economic growth and investment. They also backed Juncker to implement such policies at the commission.
“France and Italy now share the same goal: to re-orient” European policy in favor of growth, “use all the flexibility” in the growth and stability pact, and consider tools such as “project bonds” to fund investment, Hollande told reporters in Paris two days ago. Hollande said the group had mandated him to raise the matter at the summit.
With the socialist group aligning behind the European conservative bloc that nominated Juncker, Cameron’s chances of peeling off European leaders to back his stance are limited.
Still, Cameron is refusing to drop his opposition to Juncker and plans to force fellow leaders to defend their choice over dinner at Ypres, in Belgium, on the first day of the summit, a British government official said June 20.
Just as Merkel said last week that leaders are unlikely to sway British opposition to Juncker, so in the U.K. there were signs of recognition that Cameron probably cannot prevail.
“If the Juncker agenda is wrong for the people of Europe, including the people of Britain, then the British prime minister is right to stand up against it,” former Defense Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show. “Now he may not win the battle, but it’s so much better to see a prime minister willing to fight a battle and take a bloody nose than not fight at all because to not do so simply gets us on the juggernaut route to ever closer union.”
Following his party’s defeat at the hands of the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party in last month’s European elections, Cameron has repeatedly questioned whether Juncker, who led meetings of euro-region finance ministers during the debt crisis, is “capable of taking the EU forward.” The British premier has promised to fight the appointment “to the end.”
In 2009, before becoming prime minister, Cameron pulled his Conservatives out of the European People’s Party, an EU-wide bloc which includes Merkel’s Christian Democrats, in a show of his determination to curtail the powers of the EU. The EPP emerged the strongest group after the European elections, having selected Juncker as their candidate for the commission.
“It’s unfortunate that Britain doesn’t have a representation in Europe’s ruling party,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told the Andrew Marr show. “If the Tories were part of the European People’s Party, he could have made that argument, and he may well have prevailed. But the EPP made its choice, won the election.”