THE BLOG

David Cameron's Euro Chutzpah

13/06/2014 12:29 BST | Updated 13/08/2014 10:59 BST

There is a magnificent Yiddish word - chutzpah - to describe an abuse of truth so brazen that people almost believe the speaker.

The English prime minister is offering Europe a spectacle of chutzpah which takes the breath away.

In a series of article in European papers Mr Cameron is trying to persuade readers that a return to the worst tradition of European Union secrecy and private trades between bureaucrats on behalf of their masters is actually a major increase in EU democracy.

Mr Cameron does not want the Luxembourg politician, Jean Claude Juncker, to be the next president of the European Commission.

That is a defendable position. In a meeting in London during the European Parliament election campaign, the French socialist MEP, Pervès Berenche, made a powerful critique of Mr Juncker.

She pointed out he was a defender of banking secrecy in Europe's on-shore tax haven state of Luxembourg. He presided over the austerity ideology which has led to 26 million unemployed and driven millions of voters into the hands of populist parties of the hard right and demagogic left.

There is nothing new in this. The anti-Brussels French Communist Party won 21 per cent of the vote in the first European Parliament election in 1979. In her rhetoric against Brussels and in denouncing the presence of immigrant workers in France Marine Le Pen is a worthy successor to the Stalinist big mouth French communist leader of the 1970s, Georges Marchais.

Mr Juncker is exhausted after 16 years as prime minister. Even his admirers agree he does not have the stamina for a relentless 18-hour-a-day job.

But the reasons Mr Cameron does not like Mr Juncker are not because he is a classic conservative supporter of banking secrecy and global capitalism.

The real reason is that for the first time in years, the British prime minister has lost the power to chose a European Commission president.

The last three Commission presidents, José Manuel Barroso, Romano Prodi and Jacques Santer were imposed by London. Tony Blair and before him John Major vetoed proposals from Paris or Berlin and waited until their choice took over as no one else was left.

Now that veto power has been lost. It is a majority vote that decides the Commission president. That sounds like more not less democracy.

Another change is that the European Parliament has more of say in two ways. The Lisbon Treaty says the heads of government must take into account the votes for MEPs. And then MEPs have to vote in favour of the proposed candidate.

This is not perfect democracy but it responds to the widespread view that too much of what happens in Brussels is decided behind closed doors between national government officials with no room for the views of the voters of Europe.

The idea of turning the European Parliament election into a contest for the next Commission President has been around for years. The French politician, Pierre Moscovici wrote a tribune in Le Monde a decade ago 'Donnez nous un president pour l'Europe'. (Give us a President for Europe)

The political parties of Europe accepted this idea and in democratic congresses chose their lead candidates - Mr Juncker for the centre-right, the German social democrat, Martin Schulz for the democratic left and Guy Verhofstadt for the Liberals.

No British minister or editor protested at the time that this process was wrong or undemocratic. It is imperfect. But so is all democracy. Mr Cameron says Mr Juncker did not get a majority endorsement of voters. But in 2010, Mr Cameron was rejected by two-thirds of British voters but still emerged as prime minister.

It is sheer chutzpah now to say that voters who chose EPP MEPs ahead of other rival candidates should now be treated with contempt.

Mr Cameron wants to show to his increasingly anti-European Conservative Party and to the Murdoch press as well as the other Europhobe media in London that he can be tough in Europe. Once again he wants to boast that a British prime minister can impose a veto against a candidate for the post of Commission president. London is back dictating to Europe what is permitted and what is forbidden.

At the same time Mr Cameron MEPs have voted to enter into an alliance with the nationalist demagogic Alternative fur Deutschland, the anti-Merkel German party, as well as with racist Danish MEPs and anti-EU Finnish MEPs.

If Mr Cameron wants to work with Europe he is sending out all the wrong signal. Chutzpah can amuse. But there are limits. If the rest of Europe gives into Mr Cameron's blackmail he will come back for more.

Denis MacShane was the UK's Minister for Europe in the government of Tony Blair