LONDON : Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that Britain must work with new European Commission boss Jean-Claude Juncker, as he faced lawmakers to explain his failure to stop the EU insider winning the post.
During a rowdy session in the lower house of parliament, Cameron was described by opposition Labour party leader Ed Miliband as a “defeated prime minister” who had suffered “utter humiliation”.
But Conservative Cameron insisted that despite losing his battle to stop Juncker’s nomination, he could still win the reforms of the European Union that he has promised before an in-out referendum in 2017.
“We must work with the new commission president, as we always do, to secure our national interest,” Cameron told the House of Commons.
Cameron telephoned Juncker - whom he had previously derided as a Brussels insider and arch federalist who would not reform the bloc - on Sunday night to congratulate him.
The premier said that his fellow European leaders “know that Britain wants and needs reform” and would back him.
But he added that the appointment of Juncker “certainly makes the stakes higher” when it came to the possibility of Britain crashing out of the 28-member European Union.
Cameron forced an unprecedented vote on Juncker’s nomination at a European summit in Brussels on Friday but he lost 26-2, with only Hungary’s right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban supporting him.
Miliband had backed Cameron’s stance against Juncker, but said the prime minister had failed to build bridges in Europe and accused him of pandering to Conservative eurosceptics.
“Your party may think it represents splendid isolation - it isn’t. It is utter humiliation,” Miliband said to cheers from his lawmakers.
Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Brussels, including repatriating certain powers, before a referendum in late 2017, provided that he is still prime minister after general elections in May 2015.
Cameron earlier said in an article in the Daily Telegraph newspaper that he believed he could “do business” with Juncker, a former Luxembourg premier, to win a “fair deal” for Britain.
“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,” Cameron wrote.
European officials on Monday appeared to offer their support for Cameron.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the Financial Times that it would be “unimaginable” for Britain to leave, indicating that other EU nations may be willing to offer concessions.
Joaquin Almunia, vice-president of the European Commission, told the BBC “it would be very bad news” if Britain left the EU and predicted that Cameron would be able to work with Juncker.
Britain is now pushing for a prime position among the range of senior EU jobs that will be discussed at a further European Council meeting on 16 July.
Cameron’s spokesman indicated on Monday that Britain would likely try for the trade commissioner’s job, to push its emphasis on the single market within the EU, as opposed to political union.
“It’s no secret the importance the UK attaches to an open, competitive and flexible EU economy,” the spokesman said when asked about what posts Britain would push for.