LONDON — One of British Prime Minister David Cameron's top allies on Monday accused European leaders of duplicity over the possible choice of Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president, something London wants to block.
Speaking before a meeting between Cameron and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in London later on Monday, George Osborne, the finance minister, suggested EU leaders were being upbeat about Juncker publicly but negative privately.
"I think there's a rather odd phenomenon at the moment which does happen believe it or not in politics which is people are saying quite a lot of things privately which they're not saying publicly,'' Osborne told BBC radio.
Osborne's comments reflect deep frustration in Britain about the way the EU is handling the appointment after Cameron's attempts to try to build an alliance against the 59-year-old former prime minister of Luxembourg collapsed.
Britain opposes Juncker because it believes his federalist views mean he is not the right person to drive reform, something Cameron has promised to deliver if re-elected next year. London also strongly believes that EU leaders, and not the European Parliament as in Juncker's case, should nominate candidates.
The matter is likely to come to a head when EU leaders meet in Belgium on Thursday and Friday this week with Britain looking increasingly isolated on the issue.
Private and public views
Van Rompuy's London meeting is likely to be frosty. Due to be held just after lunch, bonhomie will be in short supply as he and Cameron discuss Juncker over coffee and biscuits.
Cameron has made it clear he wants to try to force an unprecedented vote on Juncker's candidacy if Van Rompuy seeks to push it through later this week.
Such decisions are usually taken on the basis of consensus without a vote. But Cameron's vote tactic is designed to flag up his disappointment with what he sees as others' duplicity on the issue and to show the British media and public that he tried hard even if, as expected, he fails to block Juncker.
Some EU insiders say Cameron's tactics have so far been deeply misguided, betraying a misunderstanding of the consensual way in which the EU works.
Aides have said Cameron thought from private discussions that some other EU leaders shared his views about Juncker and the flawed nature of the selection process, but their position changed when it came to speaking out publicly .
On Sunday, Iain Duncan Smith, minister for work and pensions, said Cameron had told him that Germany and Italy harbored concerns about Juncker's suitability for the job too.
But he said they felt obliged to back him because of promises they had made before last month's European elections in which Eurosceptic parties prospered in Britain and elsewhere.
"If they give Jean-Claude Juncker a job, this is like literally flicking two fingers at the rest of Europe and saying to all the people out there 'we know that you voted the way did, but you're wrong and we're just going to show you how wrong you are by carrying on as though nothing happened'," he said.