EU's Juncker: Cameron has 'problem' with other leaders
New European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker accused British Prime Minister David Cameron Wednesday of having a "problem" with other EU leaders, stoking a bitter budget battle between London and Brussels.
Juncker opened his first press conference as head of the EU's powerful executive arm with an attack on what he called unjustified criticisms by both Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at a summit in October.
But he reserved his harshest words for Cameron, who is fighting Brussels over a budget backpayment demand for 2.
1 billion euros ($2.
6 billion) against the backdrop of a possible referendum on Britain's EU membership in 2017.
"I am not the type who trembles, in front of prime ministers or at any other time," said former Luxembourg prime minister Juncker.
"I don't have a particular problem with Mr Renzi, whom I have great respect for.
"I don't have a problem with Mr Cameron, Mr Cameron has a problem with the other prime ministers.
"- Growing impatience with London -Juncker is well known for his often blunt way with words but his remarks still raised eyebrows in Brussels where his predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso was more guarded, stressing the importance of keeping Britain in the EU and doing everything possible to meet its demands.
But in recent months, there have been signs of a growing impatience with Cameron, a feeling that enough may be enough given that his EU-bashing seems driven by domestic political concerns.
The stridently eurosceptic UK Independence Party is set to steal another parliamentary seat from Cameron's Conservative Party later this month, putting the prime minister under huge pressure from restive supporters attracted by UKIP's anti-immigration stance.
Reports this week said German Chancellor Angela Merkel had warned Cameron he was approaching a "point of no return" with his own proposals for immigration controls.
"For the first time, Cameron is pushing his country toward a 'point of no return' in terms of its EU membership," Der Spiegel said, citing unnamed German officials.
If Cameron imposes a quota on EU citizens moving to Britain, violating a core EU principle of freedom of movement, "then that would be it," it cited one government source as saying.
- Juncker says Cameron, Renzi mislead -Juncker's comments came a day after he told the European Parliament the British and Italian premiers had misled their citizens by saying one thing during the October summit and another to the media afterwards.
Cameron had said he had confronted other leaders at the summit, bluntly refusing to pay the budget bill and claiming that his EU peers had in effect bushwacked him.
Renzi meanwhile had vowed at the summit to make public the cost of European Union "palaces" in a row over Italy's own budget projections.
On Tuesday, Renzi hit back, demanding "respect" from Juncker.
"I'm not going to go to Brussels to have what needs to be done explained to me, and I told Barroso and Junker that," he said.
"I'm not going to Europe to say 'please listen to us', I'm not going with my hat in hand.
"Juncker responded in kind on Wednesday.
"I am not the chief of a gang of bureaucrats.
We are senior officials, we are political men," he told the press conference.
"To say that the Commission must not interfere in dossiers that fall under the EU economic coordination, to say that one will not take lessons from Brussels bureaucrats, these things I dislike.
"- Cameron opposed Juncker appointment -Cameron strongly opposed Juncker's appointment, seeing him as an insider and federalist who would not adopt the EU reforms Britain demands.
The premier has vowed to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU then hold a membership referendum in late 2017, provided that he is re-elected next May.
Juncker, 69, is a seasoned conservative politician and EU insider who led Luxembourg for 19 years and also headed the Eurogroup of countries which use the euro at the height of the single currency's debt crisis.
He won a reputation for plain speaking and also for standing up against the more powerful EU states, particularly economic powerhouse Germany.
"I will respond to any unjustified criticism of the Commission, from wherever it comes," he said Wednesday.
"There will be no more attacks without a response.
© 2014 AFP