Funnily enough, the government seems a little less bullish about blocking Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission than it did a fortnight ago.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked about the reports that the die is now cast for Juncker, and whether his appointment could bring forward the UK referendum on the matter. He said:
‘In terms of the referendum, the Prime Minister’s approach for a referendum and the 2017 timetable, that is entirely unchanged, and will not change.’
He added that British officials including this country’s ambassador to the European Union would continue to make the point that ‘the actions of the European Union between now and 2017… can have a very real impact’ and that the European parliamentary elections showed the appetite for change across the bloc. But as for whether European leaders would heed these arguments and deprive Juncker of his dream job, the spokesman sounded a bit less optimistic. He relied heavily on the conditional in his reply, saying:
‘If the European Council continues to act in the spirit that other EU leaders have talked about and I think keeps at the front of its mind that there is a really important issue here in principle… If the Council is robust and defends that point of principle then I think it is possible to successfully defend that point and the PM is going to keep doing so, be in no doubt about it. If the Council goes ahead on that approach then I think that principle can be defended.’
A government source tells me that there is still cause for optimism:
‘He still has no qualified majority of leaders for him and it is not at all clear that there’s a majority for him in the European parliament.’
But there seems to be less strutting about now in Westminster that European leaders will acquiesce to Cameron’s demands. This might, of course, be so that Juncker’s downfall, when it does come, appears all the more spectacular. Or it might be because they’re starting to worry that he really won’t have a downfall at all and that the die really is cast.