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Monday 22 September 2014

British PM David Cameron to force EU vote on Jean-Claude Juncker

David Hughes

Published 22/06/2014 | 10:08

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UK Prime Minister David Cameron
UK Prime Minister David Cameron
Former prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo credit: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg
Former prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo credit: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg
Jean-Claude Juncker: chosen as the EPP candidate for the EU presidency
Jean-Claude Juncker: chosen as the EPP candidate for the EU presidency

David Cameron will risk inflaming the row with fellow EU leaders over his desire to block Jean-Claude Juncker from taking the European Commission presidency by forcing an unprecedented vote on the issue this week.

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The Prime Minister will spell out his concerns in a meeting with European Council president Herman Van Rompuy tomorrow, ahead of a meeting with counterparts from across the 28-member bloc on Friday.

He wants a delay in the process in an effort to find a consensus candidate, but if leaders are not even willing to consider alternatives to Mr Juncker the Prime Minister will call a vote and require his counterparts from across the EU to set out their positions clearly.

The move would mark a distinct break from the way that the commission president is usually chosen, with the nomination agreed between the leaders.

The Prime Minister's decision to oppose Mr Juncker's nomination looks set for failure, after nine centre-left leaders, including French president Francois Hollande and Italy's Matteo Renzi declared their support for Mr Juncker - the candidate nominated for the presidency by the centre-right European People's Party (EPP).

Mr Juncker, viewed as an arch-federalist and potential road block to reform by Mr Cameron, was put forward by EPP, the largest party in the European Parliament after last month's elections, under the "Spitzenkandidaten" process.

But Mr Cameron has made clear that he believes EU treaties give the power to nominate candidates for top jobs to national heads of government, meeting in the European Council, and not to the European Parliament.

Number 10 sources said in the past there had always been an effort to find a consensual candidate, as in 2004 when the UK did not force through Lord Patten as commission president because France were vehemently opposed, even though he had sufficient support from other countries for the required qualified majority vote.

Explaining why Mr Cameron was prepared to take the step of forcing a vote, a source said his EU counterparts should be required to explain why they were "handing power to the (European) parliament through a back-room deal".

Mr Cameron has vowed to "fight this right to the very end" but his stance was criticised by Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann, one of the centre-left leaders who agreed to back Mr Juncker at the Paris summit.

He is reported to have told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper that Mr Cameron could be defeated at the European Council summit if he forces the issue to a vote and added: "We cannot allow a single person to dictate everything to us."

Poland's foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski told Sky News' Murnaghan programme that the process for nominating Mr Juncker was democratic, because he was the choice of the EPP.

"In Dublin a couple of months ago, we agreed that this time it would be more democratic, not just national leaders meeting in a room overnight and coming out with a solution - this time we decided to nominate a candidate ahead of the election.

"And the candidates of the socialists, the liberals, and the centre right were plastered all over Europe - so those who bothered to take an interest knew that if they voted for us, then Mr Juncker would be the candidate. And we won - we got the largest number of votes.

"And so we - as the European People's Party - are having the first shot at putting together a team that will create a coalition. The winning party's top candidate is the candidate for the top job - that's democracy."

But he added: "I think there is still every room for influencing Mr Juncker's programme, and Mr Juncker's team - including the position of Britain's commissioner."

The need for Mr Cameron to be able to negotiate a new arrangement with Brussels was underlined by an opinion poll which showed that almost half of Britons would vote to leave the EU under the current membership terms.

The Observer/Opinium poll found that 48% of people would "definitely" or "probably" vote to leave the EU, while 37% said they would definitely or probably vote to stay in.

Mr Cameron has vowed to renegotiate the UK's relationship with Brussels before an in/out vote on membership of the EU by the end of 2017.

The poll found that if Mr Cameron was able to secure a deal which "redefined the terms of Britain's membership" then 42% would definitely or probably vote to remain in the EU, with 36% saying they would probably or definitely vote to sever ties with Brussels.

But just 18% of those polled believed it was quite likely or very likely that Mr Cameron would be able to secure "satisfactory" terms, with 55% saying it was quite or very unlikely.

Opinium carried out 1,946 online interviews from June 17 to 19. Data were weighted to ensure a nationally representative sample.

While the Prime Minister stands firm on his demands over the European Commission, he faces further challenges at home from a cohort of leading business figures who are unhappy about Britain's waning influence in Brussels.

In a letter to the Sunday Times, 54 top businessmen rounded on Mr Cameron over the government's lack of protection from European Union bureaucracy and plans to introduce new taxes on the City.

The group, which collectively employ a million people and includes former Tory ministers Lord Lamont and Lord Flight, as well as banking chiefs, funding managers, insurance bosses and entrepreneurs, want Mr Cameron to put protection for the City at the heart of his renegotiations on Europe.

They wrote: "We are extremely concerned about Britain's difficulties in preventing the introduction by the EU of measures such as the financial transaction tax."

They also raised concerns about regulations on bonuses, fund managers and restrictions on where euro transactions can take place, each of which they said "will continue to erode Britain's competitiveness in markets in which it has a unique global standing".

They added: "As we enter a period of EU reform and renegotiation, we urge political leaders to remember the significant contribution that our industry plays in Britain's economic success and the importance of ensuring that it is always fundamentally regulated and controlled by the British people, through our elected representatives in parliament, rather than by the EU."

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