The U.K. said it wants to see “bright, fresh faces” in the running to be president of the European Commission instead of former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.
Prime Minister David Cameron laid out his opposition to Juncker at a meeting in London this afternoon with European Union President Herman Van Rompuy.
“I had a full and frank discussion with Herman Van Rompuy,” Cameron said on Twitter. “I told him there must be a vote” on Juncker at a June 26-27 EU summit in Belgium.
Cameron risks becoming isolated at the summit 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, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have publicly voiced their support for the 59-year-old Luxembourger.
Cameron is “opposing this firmly on a point of principle and his position on that will not change,” Cameron’s spokeswoman, Helen Bower, told reporters in London. “The European Commission should be looking for bright, fresh faces who would be willing to lead the European Union on the path of reform.”
Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt called Cameron yesterday and they spoke about his opposition to Juncker, Bower said. Cameron says picking Juncker, who was put forward by the Christian Democrat-dominated group of parties that did best in last month’s European Parliament elections, runs against the principle that the 28 EU heads of government should choose who heads the commission.
The U.K. view is that “there are a number of alternative candidates out there,” Bower said. She declined to say if Cameron sees the Danish premier as one of the alternative candidates.
“The decisions taken by the EU in the period will clearly affect the British voters’ views of the EU and how they vote in the referendum” that Cameron plans to call on membership in 2017 if he’s re-elected next year, Bower said.
The head of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Norbert Roettgen, downplayed that threat yesterday, saying Cameron’s bluff is about to be called. Roettgen, a lawmaker with Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, 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 on ARD television’s “Bericht aus Berlin” program. “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.”
U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne today defended his prime minister’s stance, saying that “privately” many other EU leaders agree with his opposition to Juncker.
“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.”
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.”
Cameron pulled his Conservatives out of the European People’s Party, the bloc that nominated Juncker, in 2009, before becoming prime minister.
“It’s unfortunate that Britain doesn’t have a representation in Europe’s ruling party,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski told BBC television’s “Andrew Marr Show” yesterday. “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.”
Diplomacy is intensifying before the summit, when EU leaders are due to discuss the bloc’s agenda for the coming years as well as appointments to top commission posts.
French President Francois Hollande held a weekend meeting with Italian 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.