Jean-Claude Juncker attacks Britain for opposing bid to head EU
Front runner to head commission attacks Britain and its media for opposition to his candidacy, and vows to continue the fight
Jean-Claude Juncker, the embattled front runner to head the European Union's executive arm, has delivered a bitter attack on Britain, and vowed he would not get on his knees to secure backing to take on the role.
He also strongly criticised European leaders, complaining he was being ignored after the grouping of Europe's centre-right parties won the European election.
Strongly opposed by the British prime minister, David Cameron, in his ambition to become the next president of the European Commission, Juncker declared on Thursday he would not genuflect before the British, lambasted what he described as a British press campaign against his candidacy, and warned that he was running out of time to secure the most powerful post in Brussels.
The European People's party (EPP), which groups together Christian democrats from the 28 EU states, won the European parliament elections almost two weeks ago, with Juncker their candidate to become the new commission chief in the autumn. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, is Europe's most powerful Christian democrat.
But Juncker's claim on the post has unleashed an increasingly vicious power struggle between the parliament and the EU's national leaders, as well as between Britain and other EU countries, with Cameron reported to have played his last-resort weapon: a warning that the UK could quit the EU if the Juncker candidacy succeeded.
"It is wrong if we give in to the British here," Juncker told a closed meeting of the EPP in the parliament in Brussels. "I will not be forced to get on my knees before the British."
"What bothers me is the gathering British press campaign. The tabloid press has occupied my house. Photographers are harassing my neighbours. They are asking neighbours about family stories," the former prime minister of Luxembourg said. "You had better be ready for a lot more dirt."
Merkel endorsed Juncker's commission bid at an EPP congress in Dublin in March, although she and several other national leaders are unhappy with the parliament's attempts to call the shots on who should be the next commission chief - a decision that has always been made by the heads of government in the EU.
She emphasised twice this week that she wanted Juncker to replace Jose Manuel Barroso as commission president. But she also stressed she wanted to find a consensus that would accommodate Cameron.
Around midnight on Wednesday Merkel went to see Cameron at the 19th-century Brussels residence of the British ambassador to try to hammer out a compromise. Downing Street said the talks were "candid and constructive", if inconclusive.
Judging by Juncker's private remarks, Europe's Christian democratic government chiefs are paying lip service to his candidacy. The Luxembourger sounded aggrieved and abandoned. But he vowed to fight on, seeking to mobilise a broad coalition in the parliament in support of his bid.