‘Power grab’ in Europe is the start of a big battle

Jean-Claude Juncker’s probable election as president of the European Commission this weekend may have a serious impact on Britain’s relationship with the European Union, says the Financial Times. “Many in London and Brussels fear Mr Juncker’s election could be remembered as the beginning of the end of Britain’s membership in the EU.”

Prime Minister David Cameron “has been fighting a furious campaign to block Mr Juncker, an unrepentant European federalist”, says The Economist. Cameron dislikes the way that Juncker’s election has been secured. A treaty change in 2010 means that heads of EU governments must nominate a candidate, who is then approved or rejected by the European Parliament.

As several leading legal academics noted in a letter to The Times, heads of government must “take into account the elections to the European Parliament” when they are nominating. Many Euro MPs believe that Juncker’s election fairly reflects those election results – Juncker was the “lead candidate” of the largest political grouping in the parliament, the European Peoples’ Party.

But the appointment certainly doesn’t reflect increased support for eurosceptic parties (such as UKIP in the UK) across Europe. Cameron believes the parliament has engaged in a “power grab”.

But without the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – which has not been forthcoming – Cameron seems very likely to lose. The former Irish prime minister, John Bruton, urges Cameron to take a conciliatory approach in The Guardian: “Once the vote is over Cameron should work with Juncker. He will find him to be a modest and unpretentious leader, with a sense of humour.”

The trouble is, says The Daily Telegraph, that if Juncker becomes president, Cameron believes “he will prevent important reforms to the EU that could benefit the UK ahead of an in-out referendum in 2017”. Whatever happens, notes Gideon Rachman in the FT, “this is just an opening battle in a much bigger struggle over Britain’s place in Europe”.

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