European Union leaders gathered in Brussels have nominated Jean-Claude Juncker to be the next president of the European Commission, dismissing Prime Minister David Cameron’s warnings that putting the euro-zealot Juncker in the top job in Brussels would push Britain further towards an exit from the EU.
Cameron said Juncker is “a face from the 80s” and is not the man to lead the reform Britain says the EU needs. The prime minister is reported to have warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel that if Juncker were to become the president of the commission, which is the EU’s executive branch, he may be forced to bring forward the referendum on EU membership he has promised the British.
Cameron admitted before the meeting of the European Council, made up of the heads of government of member states, that “the odds are stacked against me” but he would continue to fight Juncker’s nomination.
In fact, Cameron’s style of personal attack on Juncker may have swayed some former allies to back Juncker.
One argument by the prime minister, that the European Parliament has seized control of the selection by insisting their candidate Juncker be chosen, could have swayed support among some reform-minded prime ministers who are uneasy about a “coup” by forces at the parliament.
However, Cameron’s insistence that Juncker was too much of a “federalist” for the job and a “has been” sounded like a personal attack, when the other prime ministers knew that any other candidate for the job at the commission would be bound to be as much a euro-enthusiast as Juncker, if perhaps rather more diplomatic in style.
Also, Continental politicians are likely to have found the British newspaper accounts on Juncker’s alleged heavy drinking, though not officially connected with Number 10 or any British diplomats, to have been intrusive and extreme, and may well have reacted against a debate that degenerated into a British personal smear campaign.
So now what the appointment of Juncker may be, besides a humiliation for Cameron and a display of British diplomatic impotence in the EU institutions, is a subtle victory for Merkel.
The nomination of Juncker to the top post at the commission, delivered by Merkel despite widespread doubts about his abilities, ensures that the Chancellor now has a half-lamed president who can be pushed into following the Berlin line.
What has often been overlook in Britain is that in the years following the banking crash and the euro crisis, the European Commission under Barroso has become less of an independent executive arm of the EU and more the servant of the European Council. Merkel has shown herself to be the strongest force on the council, leaving Germany’s former equal partner France long behind, doing intergovernmental deals when it suited her to control events without the agreement or cooperation of the elite eurocrats at the commission.
Now the (perhaps) wine-sodden and bruised (but triumphant) Juncker knows to whom he owes his new €321,000 (£257,000) a year job, his private plane, his 24-hour personal television camera crew, his entertainment allowance, his fabulous pension, his staff of flunkies, his thousands of euros in allowances. He owes it all to Merkel.
And he owes Cameron less than zilch.