No 10 backs wife of Kinnock's son for top EU post: Helle Thorning-Schmidt among preferred candidates for president of the European Commission | Mail Online

By Tamara Cohen, In Sweden and Daily Mail Reporter

Published: 20:01 EST, 10 June 2014 | Updated: 20:02 EST, 10 June 2014




Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the wife of Neil Kinnock's son Stephen, is among Downing Street's preferred candidates for president of the European Commission

Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law is among Downing Street’s preferred  candidates for president of the European Commission – in what could become the latest coup for the family in snaring lucrative top jobs in Brussels.

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister of Denmark, is being touted for the role, with David Cameron said to view her as a much more acceptable alternative to Jean-Claude Juncker, the arch-federalist former prime minister of Luxembourg.

He would also be happy with Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, a free marketeer who models herself on Margaret Thatcher.

Miss Thorning-Schmidt, 47, is married to former Labour leader Lord Kinnock’s son Stephen. She infamously featured in a selfie with Mr Cameron and Barack Obama last year at Nelson Mandela’s funeral service.

Even though Miss Thorning-Schmidt is a social democrat, Mr Cameron is believed to favour her because her country is on the Eurosceptic wing of the continent.

Should she get the job – worth £236,000 a year – she would be the latest Kinnock to work in Europe. Lord and Lady Kinnock have both held roles in Europe, the former as an EU Commissioner and the latter as an MEP, and their son worked as a research assistant in the European Parliament.

Last night a Government source said Miss Thorning-Schmidt was one of several ‘high-quality’ candidates who are ‘younger, bolder’ and more willing to ‘take the European Commission on a different course’.


Disagreements over who should take on the crucial role continued yesterday when Angela Merkel publicly slapped down Mr Cameron for issuing ‘threats’ to leave Europe if he does not get his way over choosing the European Commission president.

Mr Cameron was at a summit in Sweden yesterday trying to drum up support to block front-runner Mr Juncker.

The Prime Minister fears Mr Juncker is not open to reform of the EU, and has suggested appointing him could send Britain drifting towards the exit door in the in-out referendum he has promised for 2017.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel this morning warned David Cameron not to make threats in his bid to overhaul Britain's relationship with Brussels

Mrs Merkel insisted she was still backing Jean-Claude Juncker to be President of the European Commission, but urged other leaders to act in a 'European spirit'

When the Prime Minister was asked if he had threatened to leave the European Union, at a press conference in Harpsund, the Swedish prime minister's country residence, Mrs Merkel cut in.

She said: 'I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit.

‘We always do that because otherwise you would never reach a compromise...Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit. That is not part of the way in which we usually proceed.'

It was a snub for Mr Cameron who is understood to have hit out at Mr Juncker's suitability for the role at the leaders dinner on Monday night.

The four leaders agreed that whoever the next commissioner is, a commitment to tackle benefit tourism must be top of their agenda.

The commissioner's programme is written in the next few months and they plan to convince the other 24 national leaders that protecting country's social security systems from the freedom of movement rules must be on it.

Tensions were laid bare during the joint press conference between Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt and British Prime Minister David Cameron, at the summer residence, Harpsund, south of Stockholm, Sweden


The four European leaders posed first on a boat and later at lecterns in the sunshine, keen to present a united front.

But behind the scenes there remain deep divisions about who will run the European Commission.

Last night they dined on smoked salmon tartare, followed by roast filet of beef with bacon and morel ragu and for dessert, elderflower semifredo strawberry compote with meringue and strawberries.  

The public spat over Jean-Claude Juncker will leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth. 

Mr Cameron attending the mini summit in the Swedish countryside, with Mrs Merkel, the Swedish prime minister Frederik Reinfeldt and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, all EU reformers.

The foursome enjoyed a scenic boat trip on a balmy Monday evening in matching life jackets, then enjoyed an intimate meal at the residence, where Mr Cameron told them allowing Mr Juncker to have the role would be a 'stitch up' by the European Parliament and would set a ‘dangerous precedent’ for the future.

The leaders nailed down their priorities for reform and who would best fulfil them. 

A clampdown on benefit tourism is a top priority, along with jobs and growth, cutting red tape for businesses and completing the single market in energy.

Downing Street sources say there are ‘high quality’ alternative candidates Mr Cameron would support. They are thought to include the Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who featured in a selfie with Mr Cameron and Barack Obama last year in South Africa.

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund has ruled herself out, but would be a popular choice for many, and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, a free marketer who models herself on Margaret Thatcher.

Sweden’s Mr Reinfeldt boosted Mr Cameron’s hopes yesterday this week by saying he agreed that national leaders, not MEPs should pick the Commission president.

Mr Cameron said after the summit that he wanted Britain to stay in a reformed EU, and would leave the decision to a referendum.

But he added: ‘Obviously the approach that the EU takes between now and then will be very important. If we can achieve reforms, if we can demonstrate openness, competitiveness, flexibility, less interference, reform - if people are capable of taking the EU forward in that direction that will be helpful. Obviously if the EU doesn't go in that direction that would be very unhelpful.’

Labour leader Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg have both backed Mr Cameron’s bid to block Mr Juncker, and he is thought to have support from other leaders including Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi.

Mr Juncker emerged as the front runner because he was picked earlier this year by MEPs from the European People's Party group - which won the most seats in the EU Parliament, but still only took less than a third.


Angela Merkel is pushing for arch-federalist Jean-Claude Juncker (left) to become the new EC president, but IMF chief Christine Lagarde (second left) has emerged as a compromise candidate favoured by David Cameron. Other politicians in line for Europe's most powerful position include Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Jean-Claude Juncker is the favourite to become the new European Commission President - replacing the outgoing former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso.

The former Luxembourg prime minister was chosen as the candidate for the top job by the European Parliament's main conservative group, the European People's Party.

The EPP emerged from last week's elections with the most seats - leaving Mr Juncker in poll position for the EU's most powerful job.

But the Commission President is chosen by European leaders including David Cameron - and not by the Parliament. MEPs do however have to confirm the leaders' choice for the job in a vote.

The other candidates for the top EU job include the IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

Miss Lagarde was finance minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy before moving to the IMF at the height of the euro zone's debt crisis in 2011 to replace disgraced French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Her term runs until 2016.

A fluent English-speaker who headed a major US law firm before holding ministerial office in France, she is highly regarded by German leader Angela Merkel.

Center-left Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is also under consideration. The former MEP is the daughter-in-law of Neil Kinnock, the ex Labour leader and European commissioner.

If Mrs Merkel was open to a French candidate for one of the top jobs, Paris might offer Socialist former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault - a fluent German-speaker who was replaced in March but is well regarded in Berlin.

Another candidate for the EU Commission President is the current Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The Fine Gael leader became Ireland's leader in 2011, so might be open to moving to Brussels.

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