Few have heard of Jean-Claude Juncker and even fewer care about Cameron's attempt to stop his appointment as head of the European Commission.
Reporting on the affair hasn't helped. The media has largely presented David Cameron like some kind of latter-day King Canute trying to stem the Euro-Federalist tide.
However, Cameron's opposition to Juncker stems not from political principle, but from his isolation within the EU. It was the schoolboy antics of Conservative Eurosceptics which led Cameron to accept their calls to remove his party from the European Peoples' Party (EPP), currently the biggest bloc in the European Parliament. With the Conservatives out of the EPP, they lost any influence over which candidate the EPP would choose- and the EPP chose Juncker. Cameron has tried to remedy this by making alliances with dubious characters like Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but he lost any influence over developments when he allowed a small number of extreme Tory Eurosceptics to determine his alliances, rather than the interests of Britain.
Unfortunately, genuine concerns about Juncker's appropriateness as Commission president have largely been drowned out by the Punch and Judy-style quarrel between him and Cameron. As a Labour MEP I was present at hearings between Juncker and the Socialist and Democrat group of MEPs, the second-largest political group within the Parliament, this week- and those hearings underlined Juncker's lack of suitability. First, he repeatedly failed to acknowledge his culpability in the EU's response to the financial crisis. While the eurogroup of finance ministers was of course not alone in supporting extreme austerity in highly indebted countries, that cannot absolve it from culpability, alongside the European Commission, many member state governments and the IMF, for measures that have led to a prolonged period of economic stagnation. With no less than 5.2 million young people still unemployed in the EU, this failure to admit that mistakes were made amounts to complacency in the extreme. The former Luxembourg premier also refused to commit to action against zero-hours contracts when pressed by Labour, and to tough targets against pollution and climate change.
Juncker also failed to satisfactorily answer questions about his role in promoting tax avoidance. Luxembourg's low tax rates and conveniently discreet banking system is still, even today, helping companies from eBay to Nando's to pay lower tax than if their profits were registered in the UK. And finally, at a time when voters across the EU are crying out for change and a fairer society, Juncker referred almost always to what he had done in the past, and hardly ever to what he would do in the future.
Some Social Democrats back Juncker because they believe it is the most democratic thing to do. Juncker was chosen as candidate for Commission President by the party which now holds most seats in the European Parliament. To fail to support Juncker, some argue, is to fail to respect the results of the June elections. But this is a nonsense. Respecting the results of the elections means allowing MEPs to vote on which candidate they want, and the result being taken seriously. It does not mean expecting progressive social democrats and socialists to vote for the stale, complacent right. That is not what the electorate called for and it is not what I will do next week in Strasbourg.
Cameron's criticism of Juncker is the desperate response of a Prime Minister who has been held to ransom by extreme elements of his own party. But Juncker can- and should- be resisted by those on the progressive side of politics, even if on this one issue, they find themselves- uncomfortably- on the same side as Conservative reactionaries.