Power struggle in EU over Jean-Claude Juncker taking top job

David Cameron leads faction trying to stop Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, a veteran insider, in race to head European Commission

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 8:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 8:36pm

Europe's leaders are locked in a power struggle over who gets the biggest job in the EU, with British Prime Minister David Cameron seeking to drum up support to prevent a veteran insider becoming the new head of the European Commission.

As national heads of government held a Brussels summit to consider their options after a tumultuous European election that was tantamount to a vote of no confidence in many of the leaders, Cameron attacked the EU as being "too big, too bossy, too interfering".

A quarter of the [French] electorate voted ... for a fascist, extremist party

The fallout from the weekend elections began to hit politics across the continent when a senior member of the German government labelled France's Front National "fascist", a description that was echoed by a senior member of the commission, following the Front's rout of the mainstream parties in the ballot in France.

Europe's Christian Democrats emerged as the biggest caucus in the new parliament. The main parliamentary leaders on Tuesday claimed that as a mandate for their contender - Jean-Claude Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg - to be nominated as next president of the commission, a choice vehemently opposed by Cameron.

The parliamentary leaders demanded on Tuesday night that the summit rubber-stamp that nomination. Cameron was joined by the Hungarian and Swedish prime ministers in rejecting Juncker.

"Europe cannot shrug off these results. We need an approach that recognises that Europe should concentrate on what matters, on growth and jobs and not try and do so much," Cameron said.

"We need an approach that recognises that Brussels has got too big, too bossy, too interfering.

"We need more for nation states. It should be nation states wherever possible and Europe only where necessary. Of course, we need people running these organisations that really understand that, and can build a Europe that is about openness, competitiveness and flexibility, not about the past."

Since the elections, Cameron has phoned several leaders, including Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel of Germany, in an attempt to build a "stop Juncker" coalition. Merkel hedged her bets while declaring that Juncker was her favoured candidate.

"Jean-Claude Juncker is our top candidate," she said. "But firstly it is about content. We know we can't manage this alone, but need a coalition."

Parliamentary leaders of five of the seven main voting blocs insisted that Juncker be charged with trying to cobble together a majority supporting him as president of the commission. But it is up to the national leaders, not the parliament, to propose a new commission president.

The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, said Juncker could "definitely not" get the job. Cameron was also supported by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. But Cameron cannot veto the choice, which is carried by the majority.

The battle could run for months. The session was expected to shelve the issue until another summit at the end of next month, and to focus on the elections aftermath and policy priorities for the new legislature.

Cameron and French President Francois Hollande led their parties to historic defeats at the hands of the extreme right in Britain and France, and appeared to be in a weak position following the disastrous outcome.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, deplored the outcome of the European election in France, where Marine Le Pen's Front National made its biggest breakthrough to win the ballot with 25 per cent of the vote.

"A quarter of the electorate voted not for a right-wing party, but for a fascist, extremist party."