Angela Merkel is annoyed that David Cameron seems to be issuing threats to other European leaders in order to get what he wants. At a press conference concluding talks held by the centre-right EU leaders in Harpsund, the German Chancellor reiterated her support for Jean-Claude Juncker, and said:
‘I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that because otherwise you would never reach a compromise.
‘Thus we cannot just consign to the backburner the question of the European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit. That is not part of the way in which we usually proceed.’
Acting in an un-European spirit will hardly damage Cameron’s standing at home. But it’s also exactly what he needs to be doing. He needs to unsettle his European colleagues, and needs to give them the sense that he really means business about renegotiation. Of course, his threats need to be plausible: no-one wants a Prime Minister who cries wolf and is ignored.
But Cameron has clearly taken a judgement that he can get someone other than Juncker into the Commission presidency. He will make a big noise as he tries to do it, so that he can add it to his list of European achievements along with his veto and the EU budget cut. These achievements, which everyone said he couldn’t do, are important evidence that he will achieve far more in a renegotiation than his critics say he can.
The Prime Minister now needs to pick every fight very carefully indeed. Even though he is racking up a series of victories – ‘they said we’d never manage to do such-and-such-a-thing but we did’ type ones – he is only as good as his last European foray. If he picks a foolish fight, and falls victim to the complacency that can damage him so much on domestic affairs and party management, then he’ll end up with a bunch of ‘powerless in Europe’ headlines.