European elections: Juncker the bookies' favourite

 

The BBC's Ben Wright joined the former prime minister of Luxembourg on his campaign bus

How do you prove you're not a typical politician? By smoking and drinking with gusto and inviting the cameras to watch.

UKIP's Nigel Farage is leader of the anti-bland brigade and his everyman image is proving popular. And it's the opposite of what political PR consultants would advise. They think most voters find smoking revolting and would disapprove of a tobacco-puffing politician. And so it was that the TV cameras on Jean-Claude Juncker's campaign battle bus were politely asked not to film the would-be EU Commission president smoking his way across Belgium.

In that, and so much else, Mr Juncker and Nigel Farage have absolutely nothing in common. I joined the former prime minister of Luxembourg as he travelled from Brussels to Nivelle en route to a campaign stop.

After May's European elections there will be a fight for the top job in Brussels. Mr Juncker is the choice of the centre-right EPP in the European Parliament (and currently the bookies' favourite) to be the new president of the Commission.

Nigel Farage smokes a cigarette at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels, 27 February Nigel Farage openly smoking a cigarette

The Socialist and Liberal groups have also picked candidates. Because of the Lisbon Treaty the parliament has been given more say over the choice of president. How much say looks set to produce a bust-up between MEPs and national governments after the votes have been counted.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron is thought to be particularly unimpressed by three candidates to emerge. Number 10 wants someone to grip the cause of European reform and help David Cameron renegotiate the UK's relationship with Europe. It doesn't want a veteran federalist who's been a European institution themselves for years. Which is how they might view Mr Juncker.

But on the bus he told me he wanted Britain to remain part of the EU. He said the chances of renegotiation rested upon what was asked for - and he accepted Britain wasn't the only country wanting powers returned to national parliaments and for the EU to do less.

David Cameron has said he wants new rules to end "vast migrations" when new countries join the EU but Mr Junker insisted the basic principle of the free movement of people could not be killed and said Britain couldn't impose its view.

The main political groups in the European Parliament are insisting their man - and they are all men - must become Commission president if their party tops the poll in May. Several European leaders are likely to disagree.

The outcome of all this matters hugely to David Cameron and his hopes for renegotiation.

 

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