Some people have expressed surprise about Labour’s reluctance to endorse Juncker as the new president of the European Commission, not least given my criticisms of how Cameron has handled the issue.
But Labour MEPs are hardly likely to rush to support the candidate of the centre-right. The candidate of Merkel, Rajoy and other conservative Prime Ministers is hardly our cup of tea. He was a former leader of Luxembourg, who led a tax haven country (and defended its model of catering for tax evaders from other countries!), and who chaired Eurozone finance ministers’ meetings in the run-up to the crisis which notoriously failed to tackle emerging problems.
In any case, we in the European Parliament are not yet being asked to vote for Juncker, nor to accept him as part of a wider package on persons and policies. The leaders of all EU countries, meeting in the European Council, must first come up with a proposal.
For Mr Cameron, who’s a member of the European Council, his refusal to accept the centre-right’s candidate puts him in an entirely different position. Those who put Juncker forward are on his side of the political spectrum — they are people whose support he will need if he wants to achieve his version of reforming the EU.
If Cameron succeeds in preventing the European Council from nominating Juncker, it will be at the cost of annoying most of his centre-right allies. If he fails, it will be a humiliation for him. And this is all because of his initial knee-jerk reaction, prompted by fear of his anti-European backbenchers. As I argued before, from his standpoint it would have made much more sense to use this as a bargaining opportunity, perhaps offering to support Juncker in order to secure the kinds of concessions he will need.
Separately, Cameron — or more likely his entourage — have also railed against the very principle of Mr Juncker being considered, claiming it’s some kind of power grab by the European Parliament at the expense of the European Council. But this is just plain inaccurate. Juncker is not the candidate of Parliament, but of the centre-right European People’s Party. He was not chosen by MEPs, but by national politicians at the EPP congress, including Mr Cameron’s European Council colleagues Merkel, Kenny, Rajoy, etc. Mr Juncker has never been an MEP — he’s been a member of the European Council for nineteen years.
All Parliament has said is that it expects the candidate of the party that won most seats to be given the first chance to secure the necessary majorities. After all, what would be the point of parties announcing their preferred candidate prior to the election if no attention were paid to this afterwards? Why would countries (including Britain) agree a treaty change providing for the European Council to take account of the election results when considering who to nominate, if they didn’t mean it?
Of course, a compromise candidate will have to be sought if there is no overall majority in favour of Mr Juncker — given that the EPP didn’t win an overall majority in the elections either — but not without first checking whether he can secure one.