Juncker aides rush to dampen remark on Britain's place in European Union
Jean-Claude Juncker has appeared to suggest that Britain does not "need" the European Union, in disputed comments before the European Parliament.
In remarks ahead of a lunchtime meeting in Brussels with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Mr Juncker appeared to downplay the risks to the United Kingdom of leaving the bloc.
He also attacked Britain's negotiating strategy, saying that little progress has been made on technical talks that launched in June. "Our British friends have to dance," he said.
Mr Juncker, the President of the European Commission, said: "I am 150 per cent in favour of having Britain as a constructive member state of the European Union. We need Britain."
Mr Juncker, who is not a native English speaker and can be prone to mumbling, was then heard to say: "Personally I don't think Britain needs European Union. But as a matter of conviction others might have a different feeling on that."
However, aides insisted he had been misheard, and he had said: "I do think".
Nigel Farage seized on the disputed remarks, saying he would buy Mr Juncker champagne for his "spot on" comments. Mr Juncker meets Mr Cameron in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the renegotiation.
Mr Cameron is under mounting pressure to deliver a written list of demands, with diplomats claiming that the renegotiation cannot begin in earnest until a paper is delivered.
The British side is reluctant about being pinned down to a text, it is thought.
Mr Juncker suggested that Britain was disregarding the "rules" of diplomacy.
"I want, we want, a fair deal with Britain. We are working in that direction. I cannot give details but our negotiation teams are in close contact for weeks now.
"I cannot say huge progress has been achieved. I cannot say nothing has been achieved."
"To tango it takes two. I am not a splendid dancer. But at least I know the rules which have to be observed by others. We have to dance. And our British friends have to dance."