British Prime Minister David Cameron will press Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President-elect, to assign a prestigious portfolio for Britain in the next EU executive when the pair meet over breakfast this morning (17 July). But Juncker “does not owe him anything,” his spokeswoman warned, in a sign that tensions are still running high between the two men.
At last night’s EU summit in Brussels, a senior British official confirmed that Cameron will demand a big economic portfolio for Britain in the next European Commission – either trade, competition, finance, energy or the single market.
The UK’s commissioner-designate is Jonathan Hill, a Conservative party member who is currently leader of the House of Lords, the British upper chamber of Parliament.
Juncker’s spokesperson, Natasha Bertaud, confirmed that a meeting will take place between Cameron and Juncker, but declined to reveal where.
She did not hide that the meeting could be tense. “As you know Cameron and Juncker have not had the best relationship over the past few months. Cameron is a big diplomat and Juncker will listen to what he has to say. But Juncker doesn’t owe him anything,” Bertaud told EURACTIV.
Cameron bitterly opposed the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, the former premier of Luxembourg, as the new president of the European Commission, but was defeated by other EU leaders at a summit last month. Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orbán was the only EU leader who followed Cameron in his opposition to the new Commission chief.
The bruising fight between Cameron and Juncker fuelled speculation that Britain could come away empty-handed when EU leaders finalise a package of top EU jobs.
UK’s Hill: a controversial candidacy?
On Wednesday, the announcement of Hill’s nomination made headlines. As EURACTIV reported, Hill, the leader of the House of Lords, a member of Cameron’s cabinet, and a former special advisor to Kenneth Clarke, is also a pro-European Conservative MP.
Reuters later reported that the head of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said Hill’s “radically anti-European” views might prevent him getting onto the EU’s executive body.
“I cannot imagine Hill, whose views – in as far as he’s got any – are radically anti-European, getting a majority in the European Parliament,” Schulz said, according to the article.
But Schulz backtracked at his Council press briefing, claiming he had been misquoted and misled.
“The journalist who asked the questions told me that about Hill and I put my answer in conditional. I don’t have prejudices against him and I treat people fairly,” Schulz said.
A Eurosceptic commissioner would meet opposition in the Parliament, Schulz said. He had since learnt that Hill was one of the more pro-European of British conservatives, he added.
He also stated that a Commission without a genuine gender balance among Commissioners would be voted down by the Parliament.