BRUSSELS, Belgium – A bitter row over the top EU job escalated Thursday, June 5, after German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron had what officials called “candid” talks on the hotly debated issue.
London objects to Merkel’s favored candidate to become the next European Commission chief, former Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker, on the grounds that he supports further political union in the 28-member bloc.
A spokesman for Cameron said he met Merkel at Britain’s EU office in Brussels after a dinner for leaders of the Group of Seven industrialized nations.
“Their discussions focused on the next European Commission – the issues it should focus on and the appointment of the next president,” the spokesman said.
But a source in Cameron’s Downing Street office indicated that the meeting between Merkel and Cameron, normally fairly close allies in Europe, had not gone as smoothly as planned.
“They had friendly, candid and constructive discussions in keeping with how their bilaterals usually are and in the spirit of finding consensus,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
In diplomatic-speak, “candid” is often used to refer to an unusually frank exchange of views.
Cameron also spoke to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, EU President Herman Van Rompuy and outgoing European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on the issue, Cameron’s spokesman said.
The row over the next European Commission chief increasingly threatens to plunge the EU into chaos as it seeks a replacement for Barroso, who is due to leave the post in November.
EU leaders have traditionally named the Commission head on their own, but under new rules they now have to “take into account” the results of European parliamentary elections last month, though exactly what that means remains unclear.
Juncker, the former head of the Eurogroup of nations that use the single currency and prime minister of Luxembourg for 19 years, was the chosen candidate of the center-right bloc that won most seats in the parliamentary elections.
Van Rompuy did not comment on reports that he had produced a document with possible options for a consensus at his meetings with Cameron, Merkel, Renzi and French President Francois Hollande, but said he was working towards a solution.
“The aim (of the meetings) was not to reach a consensus, the aim was to exchange views on the process, not only the process, but also on the substance,” Van Rompuy told a news conference at the end of the G7.
He said he would meet leaders of the main groups in the European Parliament and telephone all 28 EU leaders “so I can have a complete picture before I can take a positive decision.”
Cameron reportedly warned Merkel last week that picking Juncker could destabilize his government to the extent that it has to bring forward a planned referendum on EU membership to 2016 from 2017.
Cameron is deeply wary of Juncker, an EU federalist, particularly after his party suffered a humiliating defeat to the eurosceptic UKIP party in last month’s European elections.
Merkel slammed such arguments on Wednesday, June 4, as “unacceptable.”
Britain is believed to favour a candidate such as French IMF chief Christine Lagarde. – Rappler.com
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