In an exchange so awkward it might rival Gwendolen and Cecily’s afternoon tea in The Importance of Being Earnest, David Cameron has this afternoon phoned Jean-Claude Juncker to congratulate him on his appointment after weeks of campaigning to thwart him. Here’s the Downing Street read-out of the call:
‘The Prime Minister called the Commission President-designate, Jean-Claude Juncker, this afternoon. The Prime Minister congratulated Mr Juncker on running a successful campaign and securing the Council nomination. They discussed how they would work together to make the EU more competitive and more flexible. The PM welcomed Mr Juncker’s commitment of finding a fair deal for Britain and Mr Juncker said that he was fully committed to finding solutions for the political concerns of the UK. The PM wished Mr Juncker well with the hearings in the European Parliament and they agreed to speak further at the next European Council on 16 July.’
Fabulous awkwardness aside, the line ‘the PM welcomed Mr Juncker’s commitment of finding a fair deal for Britain’ and Juncker’s apparent commitment to ‘finding solutions for the political concerns of the UK’ is the most important bit of this read-out. It’s important for Downing Street to make clear that losing the Juncker battle is not the same as losing the overall fight for reform. Cameron also needs to show that his aggressive campaign against Juncker hasn’t stymied his chances of working well with the new European Commission president, and that therefore it will look the right decision in the long-term. But it’s early days yet, and as Gwendolen and Cecily knew, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying to your companion if you’re doing exactly the opposite.