A defeat - and a disaster

David Cameron’s handling of Jean-Claude Juncker has helped to create the worst of all possible EU worlds


It was a defeat long foretold, but that does not diminish the scale of the debacle David Cameron suffered in Ypres last night. His tone afterwards was self-righteous: his fellow leaders would “live to regret” their support for Jean-Claude Juncker as the President of the European Commission, which was “a sad moment for Europe”. But his abject failure to halt the Juncker juggernaut, which gained the support of 26 out of 28 leaders, was an even sadder moment for Mr Cameron himself, and for Britain.

The candidacy of Mr Juncker, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, aroused enthusiasm among very few, even in the upper ranks of the Eurocrats. He is a walking, talking symbol of all that is out of date and out of touch about the union as currently constituted, and he was not even favoured by Angela Merkel, who was unimpressed by his handling of the euro crisis. But in a spectacular display of political miscalculation, Mr Cameron converted that indifference and dislike into reluctant but almost total support, painting himself into a corner which in the end he shared only with Viktor Orban, the authoritarian Prime Minister of Hungary.

As Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander, pointed out earlier this week, Mr Cameron had made the mistake of “playing the man, not the ball” over Mr Juncker’s appointment, taking an aggressively personal tone against a figure who is immensely well knitted into conservative forces across the bloc.

Mr Cameron would have been far better to play it the EU way – keeping his hostile views about Mr Juncker wrapped in the language of diplomacy while quietly building a consensus against him. The Eurosceptic tendency in his party would have been frustrated by his failure to throw thunderbolts, but if patient, behind-the-scenes work had resulted in the emergence of a better candidate, he could have basked in the plaudits of reformists everywhere.

The anger and frustration expressed in unprecedented support for Eurosceptic parties and candidates in the recent European parliamentary elections would have had an answering response at the union’s highest level. The sense of impotence and disdain of which the huge swings to parties such as France’s Front National and Greece’s Golden Dawn were such alarming and dangerous indications would potentially have gone into remission, and the EU would have proved that it was able to heed and respond to criticism.

Instead, we now have the worst of all possible results: a superannuated fixer destined to run the Commission in the bad old way; a European Union increasingly polarised between those for whom it continues to be a first-class gravy train, and those millions who have ceased to believe it can be reformed, and who will be increasingly swayed by the siren voices of extreme nationalists; and the UK penned in ever lonelier isolation on the Union’s fringes, its slim hopes of bringing about real reform reduced even further.

Britain’s only viable future is within a reformed European Union, and the repercussions of the failure to make a start on reform could be severe. Mr Cameron vowed to fight and fight again to bring the necessary changes. “Sometimes you must be ready to lose a battle to win a war,” he said after the vote. But this attempt at Churchillian grandstanding rang hollow, and if there was any real strategic thinking behind yesterday’s pratfall, it was hard to spot it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel