Jean-Claude Juncker in Berlin, May 8, 2014.
Thomas Peter / Courtesy Reuters

At a meeting last Friday in Brussels, EU leaders voted to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, as the next president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. Juncker’s nomination constituted a major victory for the European Parliament and a humiliating defeat for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who, over the last month, had fought to block Juncker’s nomination in an effort to appease British euroskeptics.

In the aftermath of defeat, Cameron styled himself as the plucky loser who, in the finest British tradition, stood on principle to defend national interests against insurmountable odds. The European media, though, ridiculed him. Germany’s Bild, a tabloid newspaper, dubbed Cameron “the Wayne Rooney of EU politics,” referring to the British soccer star who led his team to defeat in the World Cup. Meanwhile, the high-brow Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung compared him to Don Quixote.

CAMERON’S GAME

It might seem odd that the routine selection of Brussels’ new bureaucrat-in-chief would attract so much media attention. But the process was different this time around, and there was much more at stake than just routine bureaucratic politics.

In the run up to last month’s European Parliament elections,

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  • R. DANIEL KELEMEN is Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University and Visiting Fellow in the Program in Law and Public Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of Lessons from Europe? What Americans Can Learn from European Public Policies.
  • More By R. Daniel Kelemen