U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, refusing to drop his opposition to appointing Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission, plans to force fellow European Union leaders to defend their choice over dinner next week in Ypres, a British government official said.
The next European summit is due to meet in the Belgian town on June 26 as part of commemorations of the centenary of World War I. EU President Herman Van Rompuy has told the U.K. he wants the dinner discussion there to be about the challenges facing the 28-nation bloc, not personalities, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record and asked not to be identified.
The British premier has said repeatedly it’s impossible to discuss the future of the EU without discussing names and will insist on asking those leaders who back Juncker to explain why, the official said. That raises the prospect of a clash with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who supports Juncker, at an event marking 100 years since German and British troops fought each other in Flanders.
“I believe that Great Britain has made clear where it stands and I don’t think that this standpoint will change,” Merkel said at a joint press briefing in Berlin yesterday with Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas, another Juncker backer.
Cameron risks becoming isolated on the question of who leads the commission, the EU’s executive arm which oversees the bloc’s single market. While he has the backing of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, most other leaders have publicly voiced their support for Juncker.
Diplomacy is picking up before the June 26-27 summit, which reverts to Brussels after the dinner in Ypres. French President Francois Hollande will host talks on the commission in Paris today with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and other EU leaders who belong to the European Socialist bloc.
Cameron in turn will meet with Van Rompuy in London on June 23, when he “will underline U.K. opposition –- shared across all three main political parties -– to the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker,” the premier’s office said in an e-mailed statement.
Cameron may also insist that the heads of government vote when they come to decide formally on Juncker in Brussels the following afternoon, according to the British official. A spokesman for Van Rompuy declined to comment on the talks when contacted by phone yesterday.
Following his Conservative 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 served 18 years as prime minister of Luxembourg and led meetings of euro-region finance ministers during the debt crisis, is “capable of taking the EU forward.” Cameron has promised to fight the appointment “to the end.”
Alternatives to Juncker will be discussed at the summit, according to Roivas of Estonia, though “we really do believe he is able to deliver a reform agenda,” he said.
“We definitely won’t get a unanimous vote on this point,” said Merkel. “But naturally we want to work in a European-minded spirit, which means that we will listen to the voice of Great Britain, especially on program matters, on the commission’s work program.”