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Cameron faces defeat in bitter EU jobs battle

Britain's David Cameron headed for defeat at an EU summit Thursday after being abandoned by his allies in a battle over the next European Commission chief likely to mark Europe's future.

BRUSSELS: Britain's David Cameron headed for defeat at an EU summit Thursday after being abandoned by his allies in a battle over the next European Commission chief likely to mark Europe's future.

Cameron's loud campaign to block the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the powerful EU executive is set to flop, raising fears this could reinforce a growing push in Britain to exit the European Union.

After a last-minute loss of support from the Dutch and Swedish premiers on the eve of the summit, Cameron appears to have a single ally left in his anti-Juncker drive -- Hungary's much-criticised Viktor Orban.

Germany's Angela Merkel, originally reticent over the choice of centre-right Juncker, has also changed her tune.

The issue, the most bitter dispute seen in Europe since the height of the euro crisis, will go to the vote at a lunch in Brussels on Friday when the two-day summit winds up.

Ironically, EU leaders kick off the talks Thursday celebrating peace when they gather at the World War I killing fields of Ypres in Belgium to commemorate the start of the 1914-18 war.

Keen to avoid public signs of friction at the Ypres ceremony, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy has demanded the leaders keep the Juncker dispute off the table at an informal dinner there.

"We are not perfect but for many people outside Europe we are still ... a model of peace, of democracy, of prosperity," Van Rompuy said last week.

Cameron has blasted the former Luxembourg premier, who until last year was Europe's longest-serving leader, as a tired face and a federalist unlikely to promote reforms able to convince British voters to remain inside the EU at an in/out referendum in 2017.

The summit "will be rich in emotions, rich in events, rich in substance," said a senior EU diplomat.

On Friday, Cameron wants Van Rompuy to call an unprecedented vote by EU leaders over Juncker's nomination, rather than take a decision by consensus which has been the usual practice.

Adding salt to London's wound, Merkel has said it will be "no tragedy" should Juncker win the prestigious Commission job with less than a unanimous vote.

Cameron might retaliate by refusing to put his signature to summit documents at the close, the EU Observer newspaper said Thursday.

The Commission, or EU executive, is the only Brussels institution able to propose legislation. It also polices the rules of the single market and recently won the power to oversee national budgets.

The British leader told Van Rompuy this week that he also opposed the fact that Juncker was put forward by the European Parliament's conservative group -- the EPP -- which lost seats but still emerged as the largest single group after May elections.

"I believe that the European Commission president should be chosen by the elected heads of government and heads of state on the European Council. That is the right approach and it is wrong to sign up to this power grab by the parties of Europe and the European Parliament," Cameron said Wednesday.

Juncker's appointment moreover is part of a package of top job changes as the EU moves into a new term following the May 25 elections that saw humiliating gains for the anti-EU parties, including victories in Britain and France, against the traditional centre-right, centre-left parties.

Van Rompuy is to step down in November and diplomats and analysts say his replacement by Denmark's young premier Helle Thorning-Schmidt -- who made headlines with a selfie with Barack Obama at the Nelson Mandela funeral -- might please Britain, though not France.

The remaining appointments may be discussed at yet another summit to be held in the second half of July.

Cameron could be offered as a concession a vital portfolio on the 28-member Commission.

The centre-left powers France and Italy, which are also supporting Juncker, meanwhile are calling on Brussels to boost efforts to pump up economic growth and job creation over the next five years.

Italy's popular young premier Matteo Renzi, who increasingly is taking the lead on the left from French President Francois Hollande, conditioned his support for Juncker on a softening in the German-inspired austerity policies that Brussels has adopted in recent years to tame the eurozone debt crisis.

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