With Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Union got its first elected major offical. Voter’s will has eventually prevailed over backroom-ism in Brussel, ushering a new era in the unification of Europe. The debate on his nomination in previous weeks turned into an unprecendented common display of democratic will, that might have ultimately sealed this turning point. That expression could quite easily not have taken place, if it wasn’t for one man: Prime Minister David Cameron.
Maybe there has been such a broad discussion on the state of the European democracy in the past. Maybe there has also been a Greek left-wing populist and horror of all conservatives that unyieldingly stood up for Luxembourger christian democrat. Maybe. Anyhow, I (aged 28) have not experienced anything like that before.
The debate with Mr Juncker’s nomination at last would not have been that long, that popular and that intense, if it wasn’t for the constant attacks by the British Prime minister, that turned the debate from “Pro-Juncker vs. Contra-Juncker” quickly into “Juncker vs. Cameron” – a referendum that in contitental Europe is easy to win, even for people less sympathetic than Jean-Claude Juncker.
Furthermore, Mr Cameron unvolontarily helped his opponent to avoid hard efforts at persuasion in the European Parliament with potentially major concessions to other parties that would have hiddered his work as President of the Commission. Without the verbal attacks from London, Mr Juncker would have had way more difficulties to get a majority for his presidency in the EP.
Mr Juncker on the other hand acted very clever in all this, doing the single best thing to do in such circumstances: basically nothing. He barely appeared in public or raised his voice, sticking with the old wisdom that if you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by.
All he had to do was to lean back and watch a solid majority forming behind him in the face of Mr Cameron’s uncompromising attitude accompanied by numerous insipidnesses by the Britsh Yellow Press. As of today, he can at least count on the support by his own party, the Socialists and Liberals – a sufficient majority that easily secures his election in the Parliament on July 16th.
But what was it that made David Cameron following this counterproductive strategy? Ever since the election on May 25th, the Prime Minister basically had only one ally in this fight, namely his Hungarian equivalent, Viktor Orban. Other sceptics in the European Council like Sweden’s Frederik Reinfeldt and the Netherlands’ Mark Rutte were not such in doubt of Mr Juncker or his credentials as President of the Commission as they were about the new process and the associated power shift among European institutions. But even including these supposed allies it must have been obvious to everybody in Downing Street that they are engaging in a fight, they can barely win.
If, in the face of his inevitable defeat, David Cameron had approached Mr Juncker and his fellowship, he could have gained major concessions for waiving his resistance, namely for his reform efforts or even an influential post in the new Commission.
The fact that he refused to do exactly that and headed for confrontation until the very last minute, even threatening with Brexit and contemplating legal measures, makes plainfully obvious that Mr Cameron in this fight had other things in mind than the future of the European Union or Britian’s role in it.
Mr Cameron lifted his political infights on the domestic front, in his country as well as in his party, up to the European level. He will b up for re-election in 2015 and his vision of Britian’s future in the EU will play a major role in that effort. By fundamentally opposing Mr Juncker, David Cameron hopes for a boost of his popularity and credibility.
If he is able to succeed in these matters, has yet to be seen. The price for all that, however, is extremely high: Today, his country is probably more isolated in the European Union than hardly ever before. He has lost his main partner for EU reform, the German Chancellor. Jean-Claude Juncker, a federalist, becomes President of the Commission. But most of all, Europe has grown to like the sweet taste of a common democracy. It will come to thank David Cameron for his contributions at some point.Bernhard Schinwald