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British opposition to Juncker shows no sign of abating

The frontrunner for European Commission president, Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, has complained bitterly about his treatment by the British press, but it shows no sign of halting its campaign against what one tabloid called the "most dangerous man in Europe".

LONDON: The frontrunner for European Commission president, Luxembourg's Jean-Claude Juncker, has complained bitterly about his treatment by the British press, but it shows no sign of halting its campaign against what one tabloid called the "most dangerous man in Europe".

Prime Minister David Cameron set the tone for the British opposition to Juncker's candidacy to run the executive body of the European Union, fearing that he would lead the 28-nation group down a more federalist route and block reforms.

Cameron's stance was strengthened by the startling success of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) in European parliamentary elections last month which sparked panic among the mainstream parties.

The British premier's offensive against Juncker has been picked up with relish by Britain's voracious tabloids, with The Sun leading the way.

On Wednesday, the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid produced "six reasons why he's the most dangerous man in Europe", claiming Juncker "hasn't had a proper job", wants to create an EU-wide army and even alleging that he was dishonest and drank too much.

The Sun also said Juncker would encourage rampant crime by removing "EU safeguards against organised crime corruption in Romania and Bulgaria".

The remarkably personal attack -- even by the aggressive standards of The Sun -- was probably foremost in Juncker's mind when he allegedly said he would not "get on my knees" in front of Britain and beg for the job.

"It is wrong if we give in to the British here," he told a meeting of European politicians, and said he had been "harassed" by the British media, in reported comments.

Following a meeting Thursday, a visibly irritated Juncker was pursued by a BBC TV reporter after a meeting in Brussels, who asked "what do you think of the British prime minister?".

A former European editor of the left-leaning Guardian newspaper described Cameron's outspoken opposition to Juncker as "a democratic outrage".

In a comment piece, John Palmer pointed out that Juncker had not suddenly emerged from obscurity -- he is the candidate of the centre-right EPP bloc that won most seats in the European parliamentary elections.

Palmer suggested that Cameron's opposition showed that the prime minister wanted to retain "the utterly secretive and unaccountable system of haggling by EU leaders behind closed doors to fix who will lead the EU executive body".

Analysts said a distinction should be made between Cameron's position and the newspapers' onslaught.

Stephen Tindale, of the Centre for European Reform, told AFP: "Juncker is seen as a federalist, he is not the inspirational figure that the EU Commission needs -- that's my view and more importantly Cameron's view.

"The British press however attacks him in the first place because he is foreign, he is not British.

"Anyone would be under attack but the fact that he is a federalist means he is even more under attack."

Tindale said there was a distinct possibility that the campaign could backfire on Cameron, who has pledged to renegotiate Britain's membership of the EU before putting the new terms to a referendum, should he win next year's general election.

"It is possible that if he (Juncker) becomes EU Commission president, he will be much less convenable to Cameron's desire to negotiate and repatriate some powers that he would have been if Cameron had supported him," he said.

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