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PM 'can do business' with Juncker

David Cameron has insisted he can "do business" with Jean-Claude Juncker just days after denouncing the arch-federalist's nomination for the top job in Brussels as a "bad day for Europe".

In what will have been a difficult telephone call to make, the Prime Minister congratulated the former Luxembourg premier on securing the support needed to become the next president of the European Commission.

Mr Juncker said he was "fully committed" to finding a solution to British concerns about the European Union during the call and they discussed "how they would work together" to boost competitiveness, according to No 10.

The Prime Minister has faced criticism of his "cack-handed" negotiating tactics after failing in his bid to block Mr Juncker's nomination to the crucial post.

He will be quizzed in Commons today over the appointment but Tories have insisted he is set to receive "amazing support" from his backbenchers over the position he took.

Labour, however, have branded the failed negotiations as a "catastrophe" for Britain that have taken the UK closer to the "exit door" that could put three million jobs and tens of thousands of businesses at risk.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron has insisted he can still secure reforms to Britain's relationship with Europe.

"I am ready to move on and keep fighting for Britain's interests in Europe," he wrote.

Referring to previous claims by Mr Juncker that he was ready to deliver a "fair deal" for Britain, Mr Cameron said: "If by a fair deal, we can agree that we are not heading, at different speeds, to the same place - as some have assumed up to now - then there is business we can do."

Mr Cameron said his decision to stick to his word showed he meant business.

He added: "Anyone in Europe who thought I was going to back down or blink is now thinking again."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "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.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said he had "never seen a negotiation so cack-handed".

"We won't be influential in the world, unless we are influential in Europe," he told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show.

"What is David Cameron's European policy? Does he think we should be in Europe? I do. I think that we will only be influential in the world if we are influential in Europe. Does he want reform? He says he does but he can't tell us what his reforms are.

"He's set an arbitrary timetable for a referendum which everybody knows is deeply destabilising and why has he done that, because his European policy is not being decided by the national interest, Britain's future, jobs and investment, but by what Tory backbenchers are demanding.

"He's weak, he's lost control, he's on the back foot, Britain is suffering. I think it's catastrophic for Britain."

Germany's finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, said the UK was "indispensable" to the EU and that everything should be done to ensure the country remained a member state.

"The EU without the UK is absolutely not acceptable, unimaginable," he told the Financial Times.

"Therefore we have to do everything, so that the interests and the positions of the UK find themselves sufficiently [represented] in European politics.

"That is exactly the thing that the German chancellor (Angela Merkel) repeatedly tries to do."

He told the newspaper: "It is not just Germany that should reach out to the UK. The UK is vital to the EU and all its institutions and member states should listen to what London has to say.

"We have lots of common ground with Her Majesty's Government for example with regard to economic reforms, to the effective use of EU funds and to a strong preference for subsidiarity in decision-making. And we agree Europe cannot afford to stand still during the next legislature but must tackle urgently needed structural reforms to boost growth."

He went on: " Historically, politically, democratically, culturally, Great Britain is entirely indispensable for Europe, and besides, Great Britain is one of the biggest economies in Europe and by a great distance one of the most important financial centres of the world."

He played down the damage done by the row over the nomination, saying it was "no disaster" that a consensus could not be found on occasion.

" Democracy always involves arguments, and European integration is a development which is seen a bit differently in the member states," he said.

"Therefore if you want to be successful in European integration you have to have regard for one another."

In a reference to the increased role for the European Parliament in the nomination of the Commission president opposed by Mr Cameron, he pointed out: " You Britons have, if I have this right, strongly promoted parliamentarianism in European history.

"And that must also take place in Europe."

Former EU commissioner Lord Mandelson cautioned Mr Cameron against using the threat of British exit as a weapon in the battle to secure EU reforms and urged him to se ek consensus.

He now faced difficult finding allies "as a direct result" of his tactics in Brussels, t he Labour former cabinet minister told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

And he insisted Mr Juncker was no "green-eyed federalist monster" and shared the view that the UK leaving the EU would be a "disaster".

"I would just give this advice to our Prime Minister: stop waving around the sort of threat of a referendum in Britain as if it is some sort of pistol we are holding to everyone's head and saying 'you've got to agree with us or else'," he said.

"He has got to formulate an agenda...that is right for Europe as a whole and doesn't keep giving the impression that they only reason he, Mr Cameron, is advocating these measures is because of divisions in his own party.

"He does find it very difficult now to get others in the European Union to follow him on anything and that. I'm afraid, is a direct result of the way he has conducted his case in Brussels."

Lord Mandelson said he backed the reservations about Mr Juncker but had been encouraged after talking with him at an event last week at the height of the fight over his nomination.

"I do not think he's an ideal candidate but he is the Commission president we now have," he said.

"He explicitly said that he does not advocate a 'United States of Europe', he is not a green-eyed federalist monster as some in Britain have portrayed him.

"He strongly agreed with me when I said that were Britain to leave the European Union it wouldn't just be a catastrophe for Britain, it would be a disaster for the European Union as a whole.

"And a third thing I was struck by was his emphasis on the economy in Europe and the need to drive up our competitiveness and our share of global markets - that would mean he accepted extending and deepening Europe's single market.

"These are encouraging signs about his policy agenda.

"I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt and I think the Prime Minister was right to call him yesterday and we should now set about working closely with him."

The peer said Mr Cameron had to get "more effective Brits in senior positions in Brussels" including choosing an "absolutely first rate" commissioner.

"It really does have to be somebody who has real intelligence and effectiveness, who is committed to the European Union and isn't simply going to Brussels to sort of carry on some sort of Tory party war with Europe."

Senior Conservative MP David Davis insisted it was right to use the threat of British exit as a "lever".

"Whether Lord Mandelson likes it or not it is an important card to be played and it is beginning to be played today," he told Today.

He played down the direct impact of the lost vote but said it remained a "very, very difficult" task to secure sufficient reforms to persuade voters to back continued British membership.

Playing down the assurances Mr Cameron trumpeted after the summit, he said: "There are many times that European leaders have said 'we need to pay attention to the specific needs of the UK'.

"It's about the delivery.

"He is doing what all prime ministers do: quite properly they make the best position they can of what they've had. He's had a very, very difficult few weeks to say the least.

"But what he has to do is turn this into...a tactical advantage in the next year or two. It is going to be very difficult."

Critics who said renegotiation would achieve nothing were "not necessarily" right, he said, but "that's where the odds are".

"It is going to be very, very difficult to deliver an outcome which will allow British people to vote to stay in."

It would require treaty changes, he said, requiring unanimity among member states.

He said it would be "almost automatic" that Tory MPs - including ministers - would be given the freedom in 2017 to campaign on either side of the referendum campaign.


From Belfast Telegraph