Cameron on collision course with EU peers at summit

British Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street, in central London on June 23, 2014 (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)
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Brussels (AFP) - Britain's David Cameron looks set to be left out on a limb at an EU summit Thursday over his crusade to block Jean-Claude Juncker's nomination as powerful European Commission chief.

After posing in a rowing-boat just two weeks ago with anti-Juncker allies the Dutch and Swedish premiers, Cameron saw the pair abandon his side Wednesday, the eve of a two-day European Union summit expected to be dominated by the row.

"We will support Juncker's candidacy," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told parliament shortly after Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt made a similar statement before a Swedish parliament committee.

As for Germany's Angela Merkel, who was also in the boat and originally reticent over the choice of centre-right Juncker, she too has since changed her tune.

Even centre-left leaders last weekend backed the Luxembourger's contentious candidacy, setting the stage for a fiery summit in what is the most bitter dispute seen in Europe since the height of the euro crisis.

That leaves Cameron with a single known ally, Hungary's much-criticised Viktor Orban, at the summit table.

- Leaders remember war dead -

Cameron has blasted the former Luxembourg premier, who until last year was Europe's longest-serving leader, as a tired face and a federalist unlikely to promote reforms able to convince British voters to remain inside the EU at an in/out referendum in 2017.

On Thursday, the European Union's 28 leaders kick off their two-day talks on the World War I killing fields of Ypres, in Belgium, remembering the 16 million who died in the war 100 years ago.

Keen to avoid embarrassing friction between Britain and others at a ceremony held to honour peace, European Union president Herman Van Rompuy has demanded the 28 EU leaders avoid the Juncker dispute until Friday.

That is when Cameron wants Van Rompuy to call an unprecedented vote by EU leaders over Juncker's nomination, rather than take a decision by consensus which has been the usual practice.

Adding salt to London's wound, Merkel on Wednesday said it would be "no tragedy" should Juncker win the prestigious Commission job with less than a unanimous vote.

The Commission, or EU executive, is the only Brussels institution able to propose legislation, with the parliament merely rubber-stamping. It also polices the rules of the single market and recently won the power to oversee national budgets.

The British leader told Van Rompuy this week that he also opposed the fact that Juncker was put forward by the European Parliament's conservative group -- the EPP -- which took the lead in May's European elections.

- Avoiding 'irreversible step' -

Nominating him would "be an irreversible step which would hand power from the European Council (heads of state and government) to the European Parliament," Cameron said.

In Berlin, Europe Minister David Lidington also harped on this new system of EU political groups putting forward lead candidates, or 'Spitzenkandidaten'.

"Under the Spitzenkandidaten process, we run the very real risk, almost by accident, that the once-independent Commission becomes a creature of the European Parliament, working in the interests of a single political grouping," Lidington said.

Juncker's appointment however is part of a package of job changes as the EU moves into a new term following the May 25 elections that saw a humiliating surge for anti-EU parties, including victories for eurosceptics in Britain and France.

Van Rompuy is to step down in November and diplomats and analysts say his replacement by Denmark's young premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt -- who made headlines with a selfie with Barack Obama at the Nelson Mandela funeral -- might please Britain, though not France.

Or Cameron might gain a vital portfolio on the 28-member Commission.

Centre-left powers France and Italy, which are also supporting Juncker, meanwhile are calling on Brussels to boost efforts to pump up economic growth and job creation over the next five years.

Italy's popular young premier Matteo Renzi had conditioned his support for Juncker on a softening in the German-inspired austerity policies that Brussels has pushed in recent years.

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