23 Jun 2014

Juncker – will Ypres be D-Day?

Revealing private conversations held with Chancellor Angela Merkel won’t go down well with Germany’s leader.

David Cameron had come pretty close to doing that himself in public statements about how some EU leaders had their doubts about Jean-Claude Juncker. His Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has gone the whole hog in a very revealing interview for John Pienaar’s BBC Radio 5 programme, Pienaar’s Politics.

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What was also revealing in the interview was IDS taking a first public poke at David Cameron’s attempt to bind future Cabinet ministers to vote with him in the in/out referendum. It’s been an article of faith amongst Cameron supporters for some time that they could avoid the deep rupture that Labour suffered over the 1975 Europe referendum because, unlike Labour then, the Tories in 2017 wouldn’t allow Cabinet ministers to vote different ways.

IDS signalled in his interview that that is not a done deal as far as he’s concerned. Some historians and politicians have long argued that the experience for pro-European Labour politicians of working with fellow Europhiles from other parties in the “yes” campaign of 1975 helped to disengage them from Labour and made the psychology of splitting to form the SDP years later that much easier. The Tory high command has long feared a similar fracture on the right if the referendum wasn’t handled properly.

And what about the former Luxembourg PM who David Cameron is trying to block from the top job, possibly at the European Council summit that starts on Thursday in Ypres? Brussels sources tell me he has been heard to say in private in the past that the EU would probably be better of if the UK left, though I should point out that’s not what some others are reporting.


What does seem clear is that a Juncker presidency would owe fealty to the European Parliament like none before him which can only mean even less room for manoeuvre for a Cameron-led renegotiation effort.
The FT points out today that Italy’s Premier Renzi, though a relative newcomer to European Councils, is playing Chancellor Merkel quite cannily.

An early Juncker-sceptic, Premier Renzi, has deserted the dwindling crowd of Juncker-blockers and may come away from this week’s European Council meeting with some big gains for Italy in terms of relaxing austerity or improving investment if Germany can be persuaded to swallow them.

The UK could come away having alienated our biggest ally, the person on whom British renegotiation hinges, and having exposed our powerlessness to stop the man we least want to see in the top job (Open Europe has posted a measured analysis that challenges the apocalyptic view).

No wonder there is still hyper activity and hot phone lines. David Cameron meets the European Council President Herman van Rompuy, who presides over this whole succession issue, this afternoon in No. 10.

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