Much ink has already been spilled (or many keys have already been tapped) in analysing the European Council’s decision to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker to head the European Commission.
My government has been clear that the decision was wrong in principle, as a matter as process and as an issue of policy.
For that reason the UK stood up for the principle that the European Council – the elected national leaders – should be the ones to propose the Commission President, not be dictated to by political groups in the European Parliament.
This was a position shared by all three main political parties in Britain. In the UK, as in most other EU countries, the so-called Spitzencandidates had been invisible in the elections. The notion that they automatically represented the conscious choice of a European demos is nonsense.
So it was important and welcome that the European Council agreed to review what has happened and to consider how we handle the appointment of the next Commission President. We need to ensure we get a choice of high-quality candidates in the future.
This whole process has reinforced my Prime Minister’s conviction, as he said in Brussels, that the EU needs to change to address the concerns of citizens across Europe and thus close the gap between people in Europe and the EU institutions.
For us, it’s clear that the status quo – “Brussels as usual” – is not right for the EU of today, let alone that of tomorrow. We won’t be able to sustain a diverse, flexible and competitive continent unless we look the challenges and opportunities of modernity and globalisation in the face.
The Prime Minister was clear that Britain’s national interest still lies in our membership of a reformed EU and that he is determined to achieve that through discussion and renegotiation.
He, with others, secured progress in a number of important respects at the Council:
For the first time all Member States have agreed that the EU will need to address Britain’s concerns about the EU in the next few years. We know these are shared by others.
Leaders have also agreed that “ever closer union” allows for different paths of integration for different countries and to respect the wish of those who do not want deeper integration.
We have also embedded Britain’s push for reform, which is shared by other Partners, in the Council’s mandate for the Commission for the next five years:
-prioritising work to building stronger economies and creating jobs.
-making clear the EU should only act where it makes a real difference – leaving it to nation-states where it doesn’t.
- giving national parliaments a stronger role.
- tackling issues that worry voters such as the abuse of free movement in certain countries.
Of course, this is only a start and more change is needed. The PM accepts that what happened in Brussels on Friday will make reform tougher and the stakes higher. But he’s clear that reforming the EU and the UK’s role within is necessary and also achievable.