Britain’s traditional allies broke ranks by endorsing Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president, highlighting U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s isolation in trying to steer the European agenda.
Leaders of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Estonia -- all backers of U.K.-style pro-business policies -- sided with the overwhelming majority behind giving the influential post to Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister.
“I can hardly imagine a better person for the job,” Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb told reporters today in Kortrijk, Belgium, before an EU summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it would be “no drama” if Britain is defeated in a contested vote.
Cameron has made an affair of state out of his stop-Juncker campaign, trying to score a domestic victory with a U.K. public increasingly hostile to the EU with a stand on principle that has found little favor in Europe.
The risk is that by catering to the anti-EU mood at home, Cameron will give fresh momentum to a campaign to take Britain out of the bloc. Having promised an in-or-out referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected next year, Cameron’s Conservatives fell to third place in May’s European Parliament elections that were won by the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns to leave the bloc.
Support by leaders from Merkel on down leaves little doubt that Juncker, who ran Luxembourg for almost 19 years and played a key role in handling the euro debt crisis, will be picked at a two-day summit that starts tonight.
“Both his program and personality are up for the job,” said Taavi Roivas, the prime minister of Estonia. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called Juncker “the right man for this job.” Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he felt bound to back the nominee of Europe’s center-right parties -- a group Cameron abandoned in 2009.
The center-right group, known as the European People’s Party, won the most seats in the EU-wide election and claimed the commission post for its candidate, Juncker. Cameron objected to Juncker as too keen on a centralized EU and said the parliament balloting should not be allowed to shape the appointment.
With only Hungary in his corner, Cameron has shifted toward managing the domestic fallout from the looming defeat. Cameron vowed to go down fighting, saying he is “completely unapologetic” about rejecting the Luxembourger.
Juncker “will struggle to be the voice of reform and change in Europe, and the public in Europe and our nation states are crying out for reform,” Cameron said before the summit. “This is the wrong person, the wrong approach, the wrong principle.”
Some EU politicians held out the hope that Cameron will be soothed by a pro-business slant to the bloc’s future policy program and by appointments to other top jobs in coming weeks.
Leaders will discuss a separate reform agenda tomorrow morning over breakfast, which Juncker will attend, a German government official told reporters in Berlin yesterday. This will involve clamping down on abuse of free movement of workers, reducing red tape, deepening the internal market and pursuing free-trade deals, the official said.
The Brussels-based commission proposes and enforces EU-wide laws, monitors the single market and national economies, negotiates trade accords and acts as the 28-nation bloc’s civil service.
That said, its powers are often overstated. Even in approving or rejecting corporate mergers, the best-known area where it rules on its own, the commission can be overturned by EU courts.
Martin Schulz, the second-place Socialists’ candidate, acknowledged Juncker’s claim to the commission post. He called it not “normal political behavior” for Cameron to hold out in a losing cause and said the U.K. leader must decide “if he wants to be marginalized or involved entirely in the European decision-making.”
To contact the reporters on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jonathan Stearns in Kortrijk, Belgium at email@example.com; Rebecca Christie in Brussels at firstname.lastname@example.org
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