No 10 Spin Machine Now in Fantasy Land Over Claims France Vetoed Chris Patten as EU Commission President
By Denis MacShane
Over the weekend the official 10 Downing Street press machine told political editors that in 2004 the UK proposed Chris Patten as EU Commission President and when France objected Britain gracefully gave way.
Here is the statement as sent out
“The Prime Minister will call for a vote at this week’s European Council if President Van Rompuy seeks to push through Jean-Claude Juncker as the Council’s nomination for Commission President.
The unprecedented vote would be a break away from the traditional approach of the European Council which has always found a consensual candidate for Commission President. In 2004 the UK did not force through Chris Patten as Commission President because France were vehemently opposed, even though he had sufficient support from other countries for the required qualified majority vote.”
For the record this is absolute rubbish and Downing Street have gone beyond being economical and told a direct untruth.
There was no qualified majority vote in 2004 – the choice of EU Commission President required unanimity.
I was Europe Minister at the time and to my certain knowledge Chris Patten was never put up by Blair to be Commission President.
I am a Patten fan but by 2004 Patten was seen by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, as un-helpful because he was writing coded anti-Bush articles.
If anything Paris would have liked Patten as a real pro-EU Brit even if Chris could not speak French – a condition France tends to insist on in a Commission President. 2004 was a tricky year on the EU constitution so it would have been mad for Blair to propose someone loathed as a Europhile by most Tory MPs and Euroscep press.
But although anyone can say a name was mentioned I am as sure as I can be that Chris (who I liked loads) was never in the frame. I kept daily detailed diaries and Chris was tired after long exhausting years as Hong Kong supremo and then EU For Affairs boss. He had heart trouble and needed a break.
Paris was 100 per cent behind Guy Verhofstadt and Chirac got Schroeder to agree to support Verhofstadt’s candidature as part of the Franco-German rapprochement after 2002 on Iraq and CAP reform. Paris and Berlin opposed both at odds with Blair’s position.
Blair vetoed Verhofstadt and instead proposed José Manuel Barroso who as Portugal’s PM has supported the Iraq war (he hosted the famous Azores summit of Bush, Blair, Berlusconi and Aznar that endorsed the invasion). Barroso spoke fluent French and European, was pro-market, acceptable to Washington, and was a friendly guy who had no enemies.
Cameron’s chief-of-staff ,Ed Llewlyn, worked for Chris Patten in Hong Kong and maybe he has a memory of Chris dreaming of being EU Commission President. And of course Tony Blair was a genius at letting anyone leave a chat with him believing that Tony was his biggest friend and supporter.
Camerson should not now be dishonestly briefing that in 2004 Paris blocked Patten and London accepted this and so France should now accept London’s claim it has the right to veto Juncker. This is total couilles. There are many good arguments against Juncker but so far Cameron has been advancing the wrong ones.
This latest bit of nonsense is well below the status of the UK diplomatic style.
The Juncker soap opera is do with internal party political management in the UK (Labour and the LibDems) as well as Cameron trying to show his anti-EU, Brexit MPs that he can stand up against Brussels.
But to my pretty certain knowledge and I worked closely with French ministers and officials there was never any serious proposal for Chris Patten to be Commission President and hence no French veto.