Juncker named to top EU job in bitter blow for Britain

Last Updated : 28 June 2014, 05:24 IST
Last Updated : 28 June 2014, 05:24 IST

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Jean-Claude Juncker has been named as the next president of the European Commission with backing from most EU leaders, dealing a bitter blow to opponent David Cameron and threatening to increase the chances of Britain leaving the bloc.

The British prime minister called Juncker's nomination a "bad day for Europe" and said it may hinder his efforts to keep Britain in the EU ahead of an in-out referendum set for 2017.

Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister and veteran EU insider, was backed by all EU member states except Britain and Hungary.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who some in London blame for undermining Cameron by switching her position on Juncker, praised his experience, saying he would "listen to the wishes of the member states and the European Parliament".

"I have a great interest in Great Britain staying a member of the European Union. In this spirit I will continue to work," she also said, alluding to the struggle European leaders now face to repair the relationship with Cameron ahead of the UK referendum.

But Cameron remained adamant in his opposition to the choice of Juncker to head the EU executive.

"It risks undermining the position of national governments, it risks undermining the power of national parliaments and it hands new power to the European Parliament," Cameron told reporters.

Asked if Britain was now closer to leaving the EU, he said: "The job has got harder of keeping Britain in a reformed European Union... Do I think it's an impossible job? No."

British newspapers on Saturday all shared the view that the country was nearing an EU exit after Cameron's "crushing" failure to block Juncker.

Even the largely pro-EU Independent warned of the increased likelihood of leaving the bloc with the headline, "Cameron Crushed - and UK edges closer to an EU exit."

The papers were divided over whether Britain was better off in "splendid isolation", some saying Cameron's handling of the Juncker battle would make it harder for him to renegotiate the terms of UK's EU membership.

EU leaders are expected to try to appease Cameron, potentially by offering London a top job in Brussels at a fresh summit next month that will decide a whole round of senior Brussels appointments.

But the dispute threatens to fuel eurosceptic sentiment in Britain ahead of the referendum, to be held if Cameron's Conservatives win next year's general election.

The disagreement over Juncker came a month after anti-EU parties made sweeping gains in European elections, with outright victories for the UK Independence Party in Britain and the National Front in France.

Merkel, Europe's most powerful leader, has urged EU colleagues to "compromise" with Britain.

And Cameron vowed to continue pushing for reforms in Europe such as the repatriation of some powers ahead of the referendum. 

Published 28 June 2014, 05:24 IST

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