UK's Cameron, EU's Juncker 'high five' and make up

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 17, 2014 12:07 PM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - David Cameron shared a "high five" greeting with Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday when the two men held their first private talks since the British leader's failed attempt to block the Luxembourger from becoming European Commission president.

Cameron also introduced Juncker to Jonathan Hill, the little-known British nominee to serve on the European Union's executive, and pressed his case for a high-profile Commission job to help reform Europe's economy.

Cameron's spokesman described the meeting with the president-elect as "good, substantive and amicable".

The British leader set out his vision of EU reform and of Britain's future relationship with the bloc, which he plans to put to a referendum in 2017 after a renegotiation. Juncker reaffirmed his commitment to work with Britain and other EU states to address British concerns.

"The prime minister underlined his preference for securing an economic portfolio that would enable the British commissioner to play a pivotal role tackling Europe's lack of competitiveness," a statement from Cameron's office said.

Juncker, who takes office in November after receiving European Parliament investiture this week, made no comment. His staff said he was in "listening mode". Member states have until the end of July to nominate a commissioner and he will only start to allocate posts in August.

An official European Commission picture showed a smiling Cameron and Juncker slapping hands in the "high five" before their talks in a gesture to overcome hard feelings after London waged a bitter campaign against the former Luxembourg premier.

They were also shown joking in shirtsleeves during the meeting. Cameron's office issued only one formal picture of the two men standing rigidly side by side.

Last month, Cameron branded Juncker "the ultimate insider of Brussels" and an old-style federalist who was the wrong man to respond to European voters' aspiration for change. British officials briefed against Juncker personally, focusing on his drinking, in an attempt to discredit him.

Cameron forced an unprecedented EU summit vote last month to dramatize his opposition to the appointment. He lost 26-2, and only Hungary sided with Britain.

He telephoned Juncker two days later to congratulate him and has since been trying to mend fences.

EU officials said last week that Juncker, who has a long memory, is not inclined to give the British a major economic portfolio rather than reward his own supporters.

In another fence-mending move, European Parliament President Martin Schulz spoke by telephone with Hill on Thursday after saying EU lawmakers might refuse to confirm the Briton in his new job because of his alleged "radical, anti-European views".

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"It was constructive, friendly. They agreed to meet at the end of the summer," a spokesman for Schulz said. "They also agreed that there was a bit of a mistranslation which led to a misinterpretation of what President Schulz had said."

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio on Wednesday, the German Social Democrat said: "I cannot imagine Hill, whose views - in as far as he's got any - are radically anti-European, getting a majority in the European Parliament."

The German wording can also be translated as "inasmuch as he holds such views".

Schulz said later he had been answering a hypothetical question from a journalist who had told him that Hill's views were extreme, and he had since learned that the British nominee was "rather pro-European by British standards".

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and William James in London and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Hugh Lawson)