HARPSUND Sweden/LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron stepped up his campaign to stop Jean-Claude Juncker becoming the next president of the European Commission on Monday, moving to outflank the European Parliament and forge an alliance against him.
In the run-up to a meeting in Sweden with other European leaders that will discuss the matter, Cameron phoned Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
Reinfeldt is hosting Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch premier Mark Rutte at his country residence outside Stockholm on Monday and Tuesday to discuss the EU.
On arrival, Cameron said EU leaders and not the European Parliament, whose largest political grouping backs Juncker, should nominate a candidate for the next Commission president.
“I would just make this important point of principle, which is that as the democratically elected leaders of Europe, we should be the ones who choose who should run these institutions, rather than accept some new process, which was never agreed,” said Cameron.
Juncker’s candidacy is not on the meeting’s formal agenda but Cameron is expected to use the mini-summit to try to get the others, and especially Merkel, who has spoken supportively of Juncker, on side.
Facing re-election next year, Cameron has pledged to try to reshape Britain’s ties with the EU and to give Britons an in/out EU referendum in 2017. He believes Juncker is too much of an EU federalist to give his reform plan a chance of success.
If Cameron fails to block Juncker, he stands to lose face at home and abroad and could see his ruling Conservative Party’s fragile unity begin to fray. His plans to reform the EU would also be unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing from a man he has spent so much time and effort trying to block.
Cameron’s campaign to block Juncker received a boost in Britain on Monday after the opposition Labour Party declared it would vote in the European Parliament to stop the former Luxembourg prime minister from becoming the next Commission president if it came to a vote.
Cameron used social media site Twitter to trumpet the development: “All major UK parties are now united on one point: Jean-Claude Juncker should not be President of the European Commission,” he wrote.
Cameron has invested a big chunk of his political capital with other European leaders trying to block Juncker’s bid behind closed doors while refraining from criticizing him in public.
The Tweet was the first time Cameron had named Juncker in public.
He and his aides have been coy about whom they want to lead the Commission, beyond saying they want someone reform-minded. One person thought to be an acceptable compromise candidate for Cameron is Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
EU leaders are expected to decide on their candidate for the presidency of the EU executive - a job with major influence over policy affecting 500 million Europeans - by a summit at the end of June.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday the leaders meeting in Sweden would not make a final decision on who should get the post, adding that her position on Juncker was well known. Merkel said last week that she was pressing her European counterparts to support him.
All four leaders at the meeting in Sweden are skeptical of Juncker.
The battle over the job is becoming a struggle between EU leaders and the European Parliament.
Juncker has the support from the European People’s Party, the largest center-right political grouping in the European Parliament after last month’s European elections.
Sweden’s Reinfeldt offered Cameron his support ahead of the meeting on Monday, saying he too felt that EU leaders should choose the Commission president and that the bloc had to be careful to preserve the balance of powers within it.
He wanted to keep Britain inside the EU, he said, adding he was concerned by the prospect of Britain’s EU referendum.
“That worries me a lot. Because I see a big risk in such a referendum. It would be bad for the EU and also bad for Sweden if Britain did not remain in the EU.”
Cameron faces a difficult week in Europe.
His Conservative lawmakers in the European Parliament are set to vote on whether to admit Germany’s anti-euro AfD party into the political grouping they sit in. The AfD party are Merkel’s political foes.
If the vote goes AfD’s way it would be awkward for Cameron, who is trying to get Merkel to help him with both Juncker and his wider reform plans.
Additional reporting by Simon Johnson in Stockholm and Daniel Dickson in Harpsund, Sweden; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrew Roche