David Cameron will this week make a last-ditch attempt to block Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming the next president of the European Commission by forcing an unprecedented vote among his fellow EU leaders.
The vote is the final option left available to Mr Cameron to stop the former prime minister of Luxembourg, seen in Downing Street as an arch-federalist, from taking the most powerful job in Brussels. Mr Juncker was expected to be anointed by EU leaders at a crunch summit later this week, but Britain is attempting to delay the move by forcing the vote.
Government sources said Mr Cameron wanted the vote as EU leaders did not wish to consider alternative names, despite misgivings about Mr Juncker’s candidacy across Europe. Even Angela Merkel, whose party is aligned to Mr Juncker’s, had initially failed to throw Germany’s weight behind the Luxembourg politician – although she has since backed him for the job. The move by Mr Cameron is likely to be in vain, however, as his call for an alternative has little support in Europe.
The French President, François Hollande, said yesterday that centre-left leaders will back Mr Juncker, joining the mainstream centre-right parties in what seems to be an unstoppable coalition of support. Only Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary, is thought to be backing the British position publicly. Mark Rutte of Holland and Fredrik Reinfeldt of Sweden are thought to have voiced concerns about Mr Juncker in private and the vote is intended to “flush them out”, say sources.
Mr Cameron and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, will meet the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, in London tomorrow in an attempt to press for a debate about alternative candidates.
Mr Cameron believes that renegotiation of Britain’s deal with Brussels will be impossible if Mr Juncker is at the helm.
A British source said: “British officials have been clear with Van Rompuy’s team that if there was the political will to find consensus, then the decision on the Commission presidency could and should be delayed. But if leaders are not even willing to consider alternative names, despite widely expressed misgivings, then a vote should take place. The Prime Minister believes it is important that each leader sets out their position clearly when such an important principle is at stake – handing power to the European Parliament through a back-room deal.”
Critics of Mr Cameron, including politicians in Europe, believe he squandered any hopes of winning over Ms Merkel to his position when Tory MEPs joined up with the right-wing AfD, the German equivalent to Ukip, which could cause trouble for the German Chancellor’s CDU party in elections this autumn.
Labour is calling for Britain’s nominee to the European Commission, tipped to be Andrew Lansley, to be debated in Parliament.
Gareth Thomas, Labour’s Europe spokesman, said last night: “In the run-up to next week’s European Council, it’s time for David Cameron to come clean about what reforms he wants to see in Europe, and what changes he is going to make back home.
“A new [European] Commission and a new Parliament offer a real opportunity for Britain to now push for reform, and Labour wants to see a Commissioner from Britain who is determined to use their position to seize that moment, not squander it,” he added.