U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the European Union’s top executive job over British objections would add momentum to UKIP’s calls to leave the EU.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has “misunderstood” the EU’s political determination to install Juncker as European Commission president, an appointment that will undermine Britain’s push to scale back the bloc’s powers through renegotiation, Farage said in an interview yesterday in Brussels.
“The prime minister has gone to war over the appointment of the next commission president -- a war that he’s clearly going to lose,” said Farage. “There is an increasingly bad relationship between Britain’s leaders and the leaders of many other European countries.”
UKIP’s victory in last month’s European Parliament elections, along with gains by other EU-skeptic parties in countries such as France and Greece, suggests Farage’s argument that the 28-nation bloc has grown too big and intrusive for Britain to be able to tame resonates with voters.
He says his hand has been further bolstered by Cameron, who risks being out-voted by fellow heads of government at a June 26-27 EU summit after leading a campaign against Juncker. While he shares Cameron’s opposition to Juncker as commission president, Farage said the Luxembourger is a “gift” for UKIP from the domestic political standpoint.
“UKIP winning the European elections is putting huge pressure on Mr. Cameron’s position,” Farage said. “In terms of the United Kingdom being able potentially to renegotiate anything of significance, the appointment of Juncker makes that look far less likely.”
Cameron has vowed to repatriate powers and hold an in-or-out referendum on U.K. membership of the EU in 2017 if he wins next year’s national election, and has said he favors remaining in the bloc. His Conservatives placed third in the May 22-25 balloting for the 751-seat EU Parliament, behind UKIP and the main opposition Labour Party.
Farage predicted that Labour leader Ed Miliband would face “stronger and stronger” pressures to match Cameron’s referendum pledge.
Juncker has said one of his priorities as commission president would be to find a “fair deal” for Britain on its relationship with the EU, saying “we have to do this if we want to keep the U.K. within the European Union -- which I would like to do.”
He ran for commission chief as the candidate of Europe’s Christian Democrats as part of the EU Parliament balloting in which they won the biggest share of seats. A new treaty rule requires national leaders to take “into account” the election result when picking a commission-president nominee, who will have to be approved by the EU Parliament.
Cameron’s opposition to Juncker is “a point of principle for us,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters today in Brussels, where he attended a meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization ministers. “This is not in line with the treaties of the European Union, so he will continue to take a very clear stand and I’m sure that stand will be vindicated over time.”
Juncker was Luxembourg’s prime minister for almost 19 years until December and, after 2009, helped manage the European debt crisis in his dual role as head of the group of euro-area finance ministers.
He has the support of most EU national leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel to succeed Portugal’s Jose Barroso atop the commission, which proposes and enforces EU laws, monitors national economies and negotiates trade deals.
Juncker’s rise to top contender underlines the weakness of Cameron’s “in-the-middle” position -- between Britain’s EU backers and opponents -- of attempting to keep the U.K. in the bloc with “one last go at mending this marriage before we head for the divorce lawyers,” said Farage.
“That does tempt people, the idea that maybe it’s worth a last shot,” he said. “Well, if the British prime minister makes a stand as big against Mr. Juncker and can’t really find a friend in Europe to help him, what hope is there after that of getting any substantial renegotiation? So I think quite a lot of that middle sector move towards the UKIP position because of it.”
Farage, who was re-elected to the EU Parliament last month and will remain head of a group there of euro-skeptic national parties, said he hasn’t yet decided in which constituency to run for a seat in the U.K. Parliament in the general election. UKIP, with a 24-strong delegation in the EU Parliament, has yet to win a seat in the U.K. legislature.
“I’ve narrowed it down to a choice of a few,” he said. “This is something I must do over the course of the next few weeks.”
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