The family photo at this week’s EU summit will be a particularly awkward affair. EU leaders will have just come from listening to the last post at the Menin Gate, the memorial to the British and Commonwealth dead of the Ypres campaign, but they will know that they are about to have an unholy row over dinner as David Cameron tries to stop Jean-Claude Juncker from becoming President of the European Commission.
Aware of how bad all this looks, the head of the EU Council, Herman Van Rompuy, has been busy trying to prevent a row at Ypres. Cameron and Van Rompuy had a ‘full and frank’ discussion about the matter today, Downing Street says. But Cameron is still determined to have this fight; he isn’t backing down despite only having the Hungarians for allies.
Cameron has got himself into this position because Angela Merkel strongly suggested to him that she wouldn’t let Juncker get the job. As one Cameron loyalist told me at the weekend the Prime Minister ‘had been given assurances this wouldn’t happen’. But having got here, Cameron wants to show the rest of Europe that he is prepared to follow through on his rhetoric: that when he says he’ll oppose something he means it. Downing Street regards getting this message across as key to the success of the renegotiation.
If Juncker gets the job, which seems almost certain, it’ll be a humiliating moment for Cameron. It’ll strengthen the Ukip argument that you can’t change the EU.
Some of Cameron’s closest allies are hopeful that after embarrassing him like this, Merkel will offer him some kind of down-payment on the renegotiation ahead of the election. Without that, Cameron will be vulnerable to the jibe that his renegotiation strategy has no serious chance of success.