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European Union

Callanan: Juncker consensus hides doubts

British Conservative Martin Callanan says the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker is disappointing. David Cameron stood almost alone in opposing it - despite other countries' concerns about the candidate.

DW: Mr. Callanan, are you surprised that the British prime minister has become so isolated here?

Martin Callanan: I think it's disappointing. I think what David Cameron finds particularly surprising is that a lot of other European politicians - including, I am told, Chancellor Angela Merkel herself - also have a lot of private doubts about Juncker, but in public they say that they will vote for him.

Why are they not doing it? Are they afraid to show it?

I don't know. I've never met anyone who's an enthusiastic backer of Junker. He seems to be the lowest common denominator - that they all shrug their shoulders and say: Well, OK, we can probably live with him. This is an important job. We want someone who's in favor of serious reform, trying to make Europe work better. And Juncker is not the man.

Would it be a compromise to say Juncker gets the job, but he's getting a mandate for reform?

If that would happen in practice, then yes, but given his statements about the importance of lying in office, I'm not sure anyone would believe anything that he says. And there'd be lots of arguments about the reform programs, lots of others commissioners still to be appointed, so his ability to push through anything when he doesn't really believe in it - I think many of us would be very skeptical about it.

And can some of the other jobs be compensation for Britain, such as representative for foreign and security policy?

That's a matter for the other governments to decide, but I suspect that we would prefer to have an economic portfolio - something that was trying to bring about serious reform in Europe rather than the Foreign Office job again, which I don't think was very well regarded in the UK.

In hindsight, would it have been wiser if the Conservatives had stayed within the EPP group? Because then you would have been able to argue within it for someone else?

But we wouldn't. This is a common misconception. We were part of the EPP group in the European Parliament, but we have never been part of the EPP transnational party. And the reason we were never part of it is that we didn't agree with their fundamental policy direction. You might as well say: Why don't we join the socialist group and take part in their selection process? The reason that we've never been part of the EPP party is because we have a fundamentally different approach to Europe.

Do you think the situation today is driving Britain closer to an exit?

I think people in the UK will look once again that British views, British interests, British voters have been disregarded, and they will draw the appropriate conclusions. And then a lot will depend on what he actually does. Is he prepared to reform Europe, to stop all the things that people find irritating about Europe, and start to move a bit more in a reform-minded, economically-secure direction? If he does, then people might be prepared in the referendum to support the EU. If he doesn't, then the opposite will happen.

And you personally - if Britain really left, would it be a tragedy?

I think tragedy is putting it too hard - I suspect life would go on. I'm sure Europe would survive. I'm sure the UK would survive. I'm sure we would still have good relations. We're still going to be a few miles off the shore of continental Europe - and I'm sure Germans will still want to visit the UK - and I'm sure the UK people will still want to visit the wonderful beer festivals in Munich and elsewhere. So, I'm sure that relations will still continue even if we're not together in the EU.

Martin Callanan is a British Conservative Party politician from Newcastle upon Tyne. He was chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group in the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014.

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