UK to force vote on Juncker appointment

European Council president Van Rompuy in London for talks with Cameron

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy travels to London for talks with British prime minister David Cameron today amid increasing expectation that Jean-Claude Juncker will be endorsed as the next head of the European Commission at a summit later this week in Brussels.

Mr Van Rompuy will meet separately with Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg this afternoon, ahead of Thursday and Friday's summit, at which leaders are expected to over-ride Britain and endorse Mr Juncker.

London has indicated it will force a vote on the decision, which is usually decided on a consensus basis by EU leaders. It is expected a decision on other senior EU roles, including the head of the European Council and the EU’s top foreign policy role, will be deferred until next month.

Mr Cameron’s bid to block Mr Juncker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), received a further set-back on Saturday when leaders of nine centre-left governments said they would back the former Luxembourg prime minister’s candidature. French president François Hollande convened a “mini-summit” of political leaders in Paris on Saturday.


Following the meeting, attended by Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann, Italian premier Matteo Renzi and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt among others, the group said they would support Mr Juncker's candidacy.

Yesterday, Polish foreign minister Radislow Sikorski, widely seen as a possible candidate for one of the other top EU jobs, told the BBC that Mr Cameron would be able to negotiate major reforms to Britain's EU membership terms even if the prime minister was defeated on the Juncker issue.

“I think Britain can gain a lot of support and allies on the continent for sensible British proposals to allow nation states the decision-making power. We call it, in the Brussels jargon, the subsidiarity principle – to leave what is possible at the level of the member state and then do together those things where we all gain by working together, say on energy and defence.”

Contentious issue

However he added the Conservative Party’s decision to leave the European People’s Party (EPP) group in 2009 meant it had lost the opportunity to shape the decision. “If the Tories were part of the EPP he [Mr Cameron] could have made that argument [against Juncker] at the Dublin summit when the EPP chose its candidate. He may well have prevailed. But the EPP won the election and here it is. The rules of the democracy are that the largest party gets the top job.”

While the appointment of the European Commission president has always been a contentious issue, with Britain vetoing candidates in previous contests, this is the first time the Spitzenkandidat system – which advocates the candidate of the largest political group in the European Parliament assumes the role – has operated.

The conflict has threatened to overshadow Thursday's commemorative event in Ypres, which will be attended by all 28 EU leaders. Leaders are due to meet for dinner in the Belgian town two days before Saturday's 100-year anniversary of the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand, which precipitated the outbreak of the first World War six weeks later.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent