David Cameron looks powerless on Europe. Can he salvage anything from Juncker-gate?

The stand-off has presented Britain, not for the first time, against almost everyone else

Share

There comes a point in any stand-off where the likely loser is well advised to give in gracefully or risk a defeat even more humiliating than the one already at the door. Maybe, in his efforts to stop Jean-Claude Juncker becoming the next head of the European Commission, David Cameron believes that this point has not yet arrived. Or perhaps he judges that it is so far in the past that he has nothing more to lose.

Certainly, he sounded unabashed at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, when he insisted in no uncertain terms that his fight would go on. And there was something almost admirable about his blunt tenacity. Yet it becomes ever harder to believe that he can win.

I have done my utmost to divine some far-sighted stratagem behind his continued pursuit of this quarrel, some hint that he has secured some undertaking from someone that will, in the end, make it all worthwhile. And maybe Christine Lagarde will sail in to the Port of London, Venus-like, on a giant shell, to save the day. But it looks less and less likely.

With the German Chancellor apparently keen on an early decision – and the only early decision possible being the nomination of the stolid Luxembourger – the prospect has to be for a Cameron defeat at next week’s EU summit. That the first day of the meeting is at Ypres of all places, commemorating the dead of the First World War, only makes the whole scenario worse.

It was, though, pretty bad already. A chain of mistakes on Europe has left the UK and its Prime Minister looking powerless. The first was Cameron’s promise, when still in opposition, to withdraw Conservative MEPs from the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP. Not only has this decision given Tory MEPs some unsavoury bedfellows in Brussels, it has left the UK with no say in who the EPP’s nominee for the top job should be.

Once upon a time there might have been an advantage in standing to one side. Not now. Before the recent European elections, an understanding was reached in Brussels according to which the leader of the biggest Parliamentary grouping would be given the nod for the presidency of the European Commission. The plan was to make the decision look more democratic than the usual cobbled-together deal between national leaders behind closed doors.

The new arrangement was designed  to boost the role of MEPs, and the voters who elected them; in other words, to add a bit more democracy. To that end, the leaders of the main groupings campaigned around Europe, and debated, a little in the manner of US presidential candidates.

We didn’t see much of this in Britain, because the leaders were not invited to speak here and the TV debate was only on the Parliament channel. It is easy to argue that neither Juncker, nor his centre-left rival, Martin Schulz, are household names – not just here, but elsewhere in Europe – but the plan was to create a more direct connection between the vote and the next head of the European Commission.

It wasn’t as stupid an idea as it is sometimes presented to be. But it diminished what national leaders, including Cameron, had regarded as their prerogative: the horse-trading that had produced the nominee for Commission president in the past. The result is the stand-off that has pitted Britain, not for the first time, against almost everyone else, but also exposed different ideas about where power in the EU should lie. Do elected national leaders have a better claim to be the democratic representatives of their people than elected members of the European Parliament? Angela Merkel has seemed at times in the past few weeks to waver. This is one reason why everything has been as messy and as inconclusive – so far – as it has.

READ MORE:
Alan Bennett: Private school are unfair and un-Christian
An NHS boob job changed my life
Why the petition to comb Blue Ivy's hair is wrong
Football unites the Dutch, but a debate over blackface is dividing them

The only sense I have heard on this recently came courtesy of Sir John Major – an increasingly valuable elder statesman and a scarred veteran of Conservative Europe battles. He said that Cameron had been right to oppose Jean-Claude Juncker, because the EU needed reform and Juncker was not a reformer. Well, you never actually know that until the person has the job, but let’s give Sir John the benefit of the doubt because of what he said next. In essence, he suggested that if, as appeared inevitable, Cameron lost his battle, Merkel and others might be willing to offer some compensation, and this is what he should play for.

Let’s see. You could argue – and Cameron might argue this in mitigation – that the more Britain gets other Europeans’ backs up (as it has over Juncker), the less aggro he will get from Tory Eurosceptics at home. That may be true, but it does not solve the problem. Cameron fought a highly personalised battle that left him with no dignified way out. He resorted to what Merkel saw as threats that a UK exit would be more likely if he did not get his way. Such is the ill-feeling around Europe that he will be lucky to come away with even the “John Major option”.

 

Labour hears the call – and Harman’s the one to answer

Where Nick and Boris have gone before, now Harriet is daring to tread. And not before time. The absence of Labour from LBC radio’s political phone-in line-up was threatening to become an embarrassment, even as the campaign for next year’s election starts to get serious.

The choice of who to nominate for the slot is not as simple as it might look. No party can risk letting just any politician sign up to answer sometimes dangerous questions from the Great British public. And – say what you like about Nick Clegg – as the pioneer of the genre, he has actually set the bar quite high. He has, mostly, avoided gaffes. He has a personable radio manner, and he has shown a smidgeon of a popular touch (that “onesie” is, presumably, still in its box).

The politician has to be senior enough to carry authority, but also just that bit removed from ministerial power – in case something goes wrong. Deputy Prime Minister is perfect, as other ministers can claim or disclaim what he says, as they wish. Mayor of London isn’t bad. Deputy leader of the Labour Party is also about right, and a bit of name recognition doesn’t go amiss. I see only two possible downsides: I’m not convinced that LBC’s new recruit is yet fluent enough in human, as opposed to Labour-ese; and, before long, someone is going to refer to her, accidentally, as Harperson.

 

Not a Scotch egg

Does the Waitrose supermarket chain know something the rest of us don’t know? Last weekend I spotted a bag of what looked like Scotch eggs, which were labelled “picnic eggs”. That very morning, as it happened, I had read a newspaper article about whisky being distilled in the Lake District. Could it be that Scotland is already being written out of the script?

I wait hungrily to find out how Scotch pancakes will be rebranded  - mini-crepes, anyone? But it is surely no coincidence that Welsh cakes have been introduced by Marks & Spencer. They’re somewhat different, but maybe they’re being tried out as a replacement. As for shortbread, we will perhaps have to learn to bake our own. And do let me know, if you live or drive near Scotch Corner, when the signs have been painted over to read English Corner instead.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future