LONDON: Britain can do business with Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister David Cameron declared Monday after failing to prevent EU leaders from giving the Luxembourger the bloc’s most powerful job in a defeat that could push Britain closer to leaving the EU.
Cameron’s loss of an unprecedented summit vote he forced over the next European Commission president sharpened concern the world’s sixth-largest economy may be sliding toward the exit. Only Hungary sided with Britain in the 26-2 vote.
The British leader struck a more conciliatory tone during a noisy session of parliament Monday, saying he would work with Juncker and did not want to personalize his appointment.
But the opposition Labour party charged Cameron’s strategy of seeking to reshape Britain’s ties with the EU was in tatters.
“We will now have to deal open and frankly with the new Commission president,” said Cameron, saying Juncker had promised to address the issues of reform that Britain has put on the table. “We now need to make sure we hold him to that.”
Cameron telephoned Juncker to congratulate him Sunday and in an article published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper earlier Monday said the two men could have a productive working relationship if Britain’s concerns were recognized.
“If ... we can agree that we are not heading, at different speeds, to the same place - as some have assumed up to now - then there is business we can do,” Cameron wrote.
The Conservative prime minister has promised to renegotiate Britain’s EU ties and hold an in/out referendum in 2017 if he is re-elected in a general election next year.
The first opinion poll taken after his defeat over Juncker showed a big plurality of voters now want to leave – 47 percent against 39 percent who want to stay in the EU.
Having spent six weeks criticizing Juncker and refusing to talk to him, the British leader faces the awkward task of trying to mend fences with a man he branded a “career Brussels insider.”
Cameron, 47, has said that the nomination of Juncker, a 59-year-old former prime minister of Luxembourg, a veteran European deal broker, would make his goal of renegotiating Britain’s EU ties harder.
“I do not deny that it has made the task harder and the stakes higher,” Cameron wrote Monday. “You don’t turn around a tanker like the EU with ease.”