It has come to my attention that the European Council of Ministers has decided to support Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission.
David Cameron has therefore comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Junker. While I accept that overturning the Junker bandwagon was never going to be easy, we shouldn’t gloss over just how instrumental Cameron was in creating the pro-Junker momentum in the first place.
Frightened out of his wits by UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections, not to mention his obstreperous back-benchers, Cameron came to the view that the arch-federalist Junker was not a good person to head up one of the three European institutions.
Given that under the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament was to have a say in who would be President of the European Commission, campaigning against Jean-Claude Junker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party Group (EPP), was never going to be easy.
Two things made Cameron’s self-proclaimed crusade even more difficult. As the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP has taken upon itself to claim that it, as the largest Group, makes the nomination for Commission President on behalf of the European Parliament. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance in Cameron’s world, is the fact that the Tories in the European Parliament withdrew from the EPP five years ago.
Now that the British Conservatives are not in the mainstream centre-right group, not only has their influence diminished, but they have also alienated European leaders whose support they may have needed to stop Junker. Chief among these is Angela Merkel who was very unhappy when the Tories formed the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group in 2009. She is now even more angry because the Conservatives in the European Parliament have, within the last few days, allied with the Alternative for Deutschland, who are more or less the German equivalent of UKIP. The Tories went down that route because, needing to reconstitute the ECR for this parliamentary mandate, they were obliged to meet the European Parliament rules which state that to form a political group there must be 25 MEPs from seven countries.
Clearly it is rather foolish to upset Mrs Merkel, who in reasonable circumstances would be a Cameron ally. Cameron himself then went on to alienate almost the whole European Council when he threatened that the UK would leave the EU if a federalist became the head of the Commission. Subsequent Cameron interventions proved no more subtle or adept.
Responding to reports that Mr Cameron had warned Britain could leave the EU over Mr Juncker’s appointment, Mrs Merkel is quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that. Otherwise we can’t arrive at a compromise. We cannot just consign to the back-burner the question of European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit, that’s not how we usually proceed.”
Given that Mrs Merkel started the discussions on the European Commission by not being particularly pro-Junker, David Cameron has scored a spectacular own-goal. Step forward the Prime Minister who snatched defeat from the jaws of what could possibly have been a victory.
I, and most of my Labour MEP colleagues, share the concerns that the EU is remote. Many of us would not call ourselves federalists and would not support the federalist, integrated concept of Europe against the looser idea of nation states working together as analysed by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today. But we all recognise that if you want your view to prevail in Europe you have to negotiate skillfully, taking account of the sensibilities of those who have power.
David Cameron is obviously no John Major who successfully negotiated Britain’s opt out from the Euro in the teeth of huge opposition. Cameron instead seems to be trying to ape Margaret Thatcher’s famous hand bagging strategy. Thatcher won the British rebate over 30 years ago. The EU and the zeitgeist are very different now. All David Cameron has managed to do is let the side down.