David Cameron forced to claim ‘dignified defeat’ in his fight against Jean-Claude Juncker

 

Brussels

David Cameron is preparing the ground for defeat in his battle to stop the veteran federalist Jean-Claude Juncker becoming the next president of the European Commission.

There were growing signs today that Mr Cameron would fail to muster enough support from other EU leaders to prevent the former prime minister of Luxembourg landing the top job in Brussels. Instead, Mr Cameron may have to settle for a consolation prize for Britain’s Commission member when other posts are shared out and the promise of a better deal for the UK when he renegotiates its membership terms ahead of a 2017 in/out referendum.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister insisted he would not back down. He implied that other EU leaders who backed Mr Juncker’s candidacy in public said another thing in private, saying they had “interesting” views. "I don't mind how many people on the European Council [the 28 national leaders] disagree with me, I will fight this right to the very end,” he said.

Mr Cameron argues that the Commission’s head should be chosen by national leaders rather than the European Parliament, which is backing Mr Juncker. But he suffered a setback when Taavi Roivas, the Estonian Prime Minister, said on a Downing Street visit that he would continue to back Mr Juncker. “I really believe that Jean-Claude with his team will be able to deliver the reform,” he said.

Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, conceded that Europe might “elect the wrong man” but argued: “The question is, can we get a satisfactory negotiation along the lines Britain has been talking about, and my answer to that is categorically 'yes, we can'."

Prime Minister Cameron in Brussels last month (Getty) Prime Minister Cameron in Brussels last month (Getty)
A senior British Government official insisted that Mr Cameron “certainly isn't throwing in the towel” and would oppose Mr Juncker's candidacy at next week’s EU summit. “He's going to stick to that position right the way through up to and including the European Council,” the official said.

But the official said Britain was keen to see the debate shift towards to the other top EU positions. While Commission President is the most high-profile, the position of European Council President – who presides over meetings of the 28 national leaders – and High Representative for Foreign Affairs are also coming up later this year.

“We think there should be a debate on the package. So far the debate has been about the Commission president,” the official said.

“We think that the right way to deal with this is for there to be a proper considered discussion by heads of state of government about the right team of men and women to fill the EU top jobs at this team,” the official added. “We think the right approach would be for a considered discussion of all potential names leading to a consensus on the top team as a balanced ticket.”

If Britain were able to get their choices into some of the other top jobs, it could deflect attention away from Mr Cameron's likely defeat over Mr Juncker. The Prime Minister looked set to lose another ally in Italy, when its Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held talks with the current European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, in Rome. Mr Renzi had indicated that Mr Juncker was too closely linked with the EU's austerity policies and was advocating for a fresh face. But he is now believed to be willing to back Mr Juncker in exchange for some softening of the strict budget and austerity rules which are deeply unpopular in Italy.

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