Merkel teaches Cameron a lesson: never play strip poker
Cameron is left with nowhere to go – except out – after German Chancellor ignores his objections to Juncker
David Cameron looks to have played a poor hand badly. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced she is campaigning for the federalist Jean-Claude Juncker to be anointed as the next President of the European Commission - despite Cameron's objections. It appears to leave the Prime Minister with nowhere to go – except Out.
The Sun, which yesterday ran a headline saying ‘Up your Juncker’, is spitting blood today: “In a humiliating blow to the PM, she [Merkel] threw her weight behind the former Luxembourg premier as the next European Commission president. And she insisted that his appointment could be pushed through WITHOUT Mr Cameron's approval.”
The Times says rather more calmly that Merkel's stance underlines "Britain’s weakness in Brussels and the apparent fragility of key alliances across the continent".
What Merkel said was: "In all the talks that I hold, I am working to ensure Jean-Claude Juncker gets the necessary majority in the Council, in order to become the next president of the European Commisssion.
"I am also working to ensure that this decision, even if it is controversial… is made in the European spirit."
Her pronouncement came as Cameron reiterated his opposition to Juncker on a visit to Newark ahead of Thursday's crucial by-election.
Steve Evans, the BBC’s man in Berlin, says Merkel started out with sympathy for Cameron’s objections to Juncker but chose Juncker “much to Mr Cameron’s discomfort” because the German press – notably Bilt and Der Spiegel – ganged up on her.
Bilt argued that the centre-right won the European elections and if Merkel refused to back a centre-right candidate the EU would look like a “banana republic”. Der Spiegel accused Cameron of “blackmailing” the EU.
Merkel had a clear choice – Cameron or Juncker - said Evans on Radio 4's Today programme, and she chose Juncker.
Hans-Peter Uhl of the German Christian Union said: "We are not against Cameron but more against the whole attitude of England in its relationship with the EU. Britain wants a free trade union. We want a European state with a harmonised legal system. Now Britain has to decide Yes or No, In or Out."
Merkel’s cold shoulder for Cameron will leave him looking horribly naked if he ever gets to the EU negotiating table in his bid to bring more powers back to Britain. He can produce a few fringe countries to give himself a fig leaf, but the big players – France and German – look increasingly unlikely to give up powers to Britain.
To rub salt into the wound, the Commission yesterday recommended a series of Socialist economic policies for Britain to adopt including increasing council taxes on the rich and curbing the help-to-buy scheme to stop fuelling the rise in house prices.
Cameron has no intention of heeding the advice – and it should be noted that both Italy and France received stronger tickings-off from the Commission - but it just gives further ammunition to the Get Out of Europe lobby within the Tory party.
A wise negotiator would have left himself with room for manoeuvre but Cameron was clearly influenced by the need to match the Euroscepticism of Ukip ahead of the Newark by-election. He’s said Juncker over my dead body… and his EU partners have chosen Juncker. On this showing, Cameron would be unwise to play strip poker.
Meanwhile, the last pro-European Tory - other than Cameron, if we can still call him that - in the Cabinet, Ken Clarke, is clearly ready to be shown the door himself.
Interviewed on Channel 4 News by Jon Snow about the rumours that he is about to get sacked in Cameron’s upcoming reshuffle Ken, 73, said: "I am surprised to be in the Cabinet at my age... Sooner or later there are a lot of ambitious young people who have got to be appointed."