prime Minister David Cameron is to force an unprecedented vote on the appointment of the new president of the European Commission.
After “full and frank talks” with European president Herman Van Rompuy at No 10, Mr Cameron confirmed he would make fellow heads of government hold a vote rather than nodding through Jean-Claude Juncker, the preferred candidate of the European Parliament.
However, the former Luxembourg premier has the support of German chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders, and looks set to take the top job.
The UK government is concerned that Mr Juncker, who is regarded as an arch-federalist, will try to cement further integration between countries in the EU, at a time when much of the UK electorate wants a referendum on Britain’s membership.
And on a day in which it appeared Mr Cameron’s diplomacy was unravelling, it was reported that a key ally, Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, had claimed the Prime Minister was “incompetent”.
Colourfully worded covert recordings – leaked to Polish magazine Wprost – apparently captured a conversation between Mr Sikorski and former finance minister Jacek Rostowski.
Mr Sikorski is reported to have said: “It’s either a very badly thought-through move or, not for the first time, a kind of incompetence in European affairs.
“Remember? He f***** up the fiscal pact. He f***** it up. Simple as that. He is not interested, he does not get it, he believes in the stupid propaganda, he stupidly tries to play the system … his whole strategy of feeding [his critics] scraps in order to satisfy them is just, as I predicted, turning against him.
“He should have said, f*** off, tried to convince people and isolate [the sceptics]. But he ceded the field to those that are now embarrassing him.”
In his Downing Street talks, the Prime Minister told Mr van Rompuy he was determined to fight “until the end” Mr Juncker’s appointment as president of the European Commission.
Mr Cameron made clear that if Mr Juncker’s name is tabled on Friday, he will demand a vote on his nomination – an unprecedented move in a process which is normally agreed by consensus.
Following the 40-minute meeting, No 10 said Mr van Rompuy had agreed to work through the practicalities of holding a vote, after Mr Cameron made clear he was not prepared to back down, despite facing almost certain defeat.
Downing Street made clear Mr Cameron regarded it as a matter of principle, with the so called Spitzenkandidaten process – which would see Mr Juncker chosen as the candidate of the biggest party bloc in the European Parliament – marking a fundamental shift in the balance of power in Brussels.
However, in a sign that the Prime Minister is failing to convince even his own party, David Burrows resigned as parliament private secretary (PPS) to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.
The MP – who enjoys a majority of 7,626 in Enfield Southgate and attracted almost half of all votes there in 2010 – has been at the forefront of efforts to introduce mandatory jail terms for repeat offenders.
Previously PPS to Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin, he wrote: “I have concluded that it is the right time to resign as a PPS and return fully to the back benches.”