10 Jun 2014

Merkel and Cameron: unstitching a stitch-up

Chancellor Angela Merkel was never going to dump Jean-Claude Juncker at the Swedish summit. But she signalled at the end of summit press conference with David Cameron and the prime ministers of Sweden and the Netherlands that she is fully behind pushing this process further down the pipeline.

That can only spell bad news for Jean-Claude Juncker who believes he was automatically crowned president-in-waiting when the EPP came top in the European Parliament elections.

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Chancellor Merkel’s exact words were: “…for me Jean-Claude Juncker is the candidate for the office of commission president and that I want to have him as the commission president.

“That’s what I said in Germany and I’ll say that here but it wasn’t our main topic…”

But if one of the main topics is devising a drawn-out process that diminishes the automaticity of Jean-Claude Juncker’s anointment and allows other candidates to emerge… well, then he’s a topic of conversation alright, and her support is for appearances only.

The Dutch PM Mark Rutte said the four leaders had agreed “content first, personalities second” – and though she can’t admit it in public, Angela Merkel knows that is a procedure for leaving Mr Juncker twisting in the wind till he falls off the branch.

It would be an unwise person who put money on Mr Juncker right now. It would also be an unwise person who didn’t put money on some sort of European parliament backlash from those MEPs who think there was a deal to put in Mr Juncker or Mr Schulz, depending on whether the centre-right or the centre-left won last month.

David Cameron has his eyes set on a big economic post in the commission for the UK, possibly the trade brief. He’d have little problem convincing the Swedish dinner party of that but would face mighty obstacles with other EU partners, and those problems could be compounded if disgruntled countries thought he’d sunk their candidate for the top job.

The perils of unstitching what David Cameron yesterday called a “stitch-up”.

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