David Cameron says the European Council’s decision to appoint Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission is a “bad day for Europe”, adding: “You have to lose a battle to win a war.”
Mr Cameron had mounted a vehement campaign, in defiance of EU habits of consensus, to deny Mr Juncker the job on the grounds that the 59-year-old veteran of Brussels dealmaking was a federalist committed to expanding the union’s powers.
The confirmation of his nomination was announced by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on Twitter. The centre-right Mr Juncker must now appear before the European Parliament and win a confirmation vote set for 16 July on his policy agenda.
In an unprecedented vote forced on EU leaders by Mr Cameron, the European Council voted 26-2 on Friday to nominate Mr Juncker as president of the executive European Commission, a British official said. Only Mr Cameron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban voted against.
It marks a break with a tradition of filling key roles by consensus and underlined Mr Cameron’s strong objections to Mr Juncker and the way in which his candidacy was proposed by the European parliament.
The prime minister had insisted he was “completely unapologetic” about his outspoken opposition to the appointment of former Luxembourg premier Mr Juncker, which had left him isolated at a two-day summit of the European Council.
Britain had earlier insisted that its dissatisfaction with Mr Juncker was “not a unique view” and that privately other capitals have misgivings about his candidacy.
Amid widespread reports that Mr Juncker’s liking for “a cognac at breakfast” were causing concerns in Brussels, one European diplomat said: “His alcohol consumption has been raised by a number of leaders since the (European) parliamentary elections.”
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With Chancellor Angela Merkel having thrown Germany’s weight behind Mr Juncker and other potential allies such as Sweden and Netherlands also dropping their opposition, only Hungary had remained as a possible partner for Britain in voting against his installation.
But Mr Cameron said he continued to believe his fellow leaders were making a “mistake” and that choosing Mr Juncker – candidate of the largest political grouping in the European Parliament, the centre-right EPP – would be “bad for all of Europe”.
In an apparent swipe at leaders who have voiced disquiet behind closed doors, Mr Cameron said: “It’s very important in Europe that you say what you say in private and it’s the same as what you say in public.”
Asked earlier whether there could be consequences if the other 27 leaders refuse to accept the need for consensus, the Prime Minister said: “Everything has consequences in life.
“Obviously, I think proceeding in the way that countries are planning to proceed in choosing this individual, I believe that this is the wrong approach. And I think that would be bad for… all of Europe.”
Mr Cameron made clear that defeat in Brussels would not affect his determination to press ahead with renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership, followed by an in/out referendum in 2017, if Conservatives win next year’s general election.
“Does any of this mean that we do not get a renegotiation? No,” he said. “Does it mean we don’t get a referendum? No.”
But it is understood that the prime minister believes that a refusal on the part of the European Council to take account of the reservations of a large member of the EU – and a net contributor to its budget – will have an impact on the mood in which the referendum debate is conducted in the UK.
One British official said: “We are realistic that that has an impact on the debate in Britain about the EU. That’s what other leaders must realise… What we have been saying to people is: ‘You need to realise that there is a debate going on in Britain about Britain’s role in the EU. It’s not one prime minister, leading one party, with a view. There is a broad debate here, and you need to understand that political reality.”‘
Victory for Mr Juncker would “make securing reform and securing renegotiation even more important and will make us even more determined”, said the official.
Angela Merkel had appeared to offer an olive branch to Mr Cameron as she arrived for talks with fellow centre-right leaders ahead of the summit, saying that there was room for a “good compromise for the UK” in a document setting out the EU’s strategic agenda for the next five years.
This consolation prize could involve strong words in the document – due to be signed in Brussels – on British priorities such as jobs, growth, deregulation, immigration and “welfare tourism”, which might act as a constraint on the actions of an eventual Juncker commission.
British officials were playing down speculation that agreement on the commission presidency might be reached through horse-trading over other top jobs – including the offices of European Council president and High Representative for foreign affairs, which also come up for renewal in November – insisting that Mr Cameron will make good on his promise to maintain his opposition “until the end”.
Britain is angling for one of the key economic portfolios at Berlaymont, but decisions on individual commissioners are not expected until a later summit next month.