British Prime Minister David Cameron faced “utter humiliation” on Monday as he was forced to congratulate Jean Claude Juncker on his win as European Commission president – despite fiercely opposing his nomination for almost two months.
A source from 10 Downing Street told The Times that the prime minister
offered Juncker his congratulations on “running a successful
campaign and securing the council nomination,” and that he
hoped to work with him to make the European Union more
“competitive and flexible.”
Writing in The Telegraph, Cameron also said he would continue to work with Juncker, so long as he acknowledged British interests in Europe.
“If by a fair deal, 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,” he said.
He also denied accusations that Juncker’s victory was a “fatal blow” for him, saying: “I do not deny that it has made the task harder and the stakes higher. But it is not in our nature as a country to give up. That is not what we do.”
Cameron had been leading a campaign to block Juncker from becoming the president of the EU Commission, and hoped that allies such as Germany would be able to help stop him. But at the European Summit held last week, he could only garner the support of Hungary, with 26 EU member states opposing him.
The defeat has largely been seen as an embarrassment for the prime minister, who is struggling to convince British voters about the need to stay in the EU. According to a poll conducted by the Mail on Sunday, almost half of all Britons would leave the EU if a referendum was held today.
Cameron’s political opponents have also slammed him for his defeat. At a debate held in parliament on Monday, Labour leader Ed Miliband said that Cameron’s EU strategy was now “in tatters.”
"You were outwitted, out-manoeuvred and out-voted," he said. "Instead of building alliances in Europe, you've burned them. You're a defeated prime minister who can't deliver for Great Britain," he added.
Miliband also criticized Cameron’s claims that he would be able to negotiate a better deal for Britain in the EU, saying: “He couldn't get four countries to support him over Junker. And if he can't get four countries to block the appointment of a president, how on earth is he going to get 27 countries to support a new treaty?”
Earlier, Miliband said it would be "a total failure to deliver and an utter humiliation" for Cameron if Juncker were appointed European Commission president.
Cameron, who has promised British voters a referendum on EU membership in 2017, had opposed Juncker’s nomination on the basis that he wanted to expand Brussels' powers over its member states. He said that Juncker’s nomination ignored the desire for reform expressed by voters during last month's European elections, in which millions voted for anti-EU parties.
The prime minister also faced criticism from EU members for his threats to hold an in/out referendum on Europe whilst trying to prevent Juncker from getting the top job. A representative from a pro-Britain EU member state told The Independent that “The threat to leave may prove an empty one. It is not the best way to get what you want. Cameron may find that other people will call his bluff.” Meanwhile, an inside source in the European Parliament told the newspaper that people are “sick of Britain’s complaining tone.”
Despite Cameron’s defeat, EU states have accepted that Britain’s concerns “will be addressed” and that the “drive for an ever closer union” may not apply to all member states.