June 28, 2014 / 2:29 PM / in 4 years

British minister condemns 'cowardice' of EU leaders over Juncker vote

LONDON (Reuters) - Two British ministers condemned on Saturday EU leaders who privately voiced concerns over the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as EU Commission President but voted for him at a summit in Brussels, with one calling them cowards over the decision.

Candidate for the European Commission presidency Jean-Claude Juncker arrives at an European People's Party (EPP) meeting in Kortrijk June 26, 2014. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

On Friday, EU heads of government outvoted British Prime Minister David Cameron with 26 leaders backing Juncker’s candidacy against Cameron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Oban who both opposed the move.

British opposition to Juncker centered around fears that the former prime minister of Luxembourg and veteran deal-broker at EU summits lacks the will to overhaul the EU, with Cameron saying any reform attempts would now be “longer and tougher”.

Cameron, some of whose own ruling Conservative Party favor a British exit from the EU, has promised voters a referendum on leaving the bloc by 2017 - if he wins re-election next year.

But on Saturday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned as cowards those heads of government who privately had reservations about Juncker’s appointment but in the end voted for him to head the executive which proposes and enforces EU laws.

“As a result of cowardice yesterday from other leaders who were not prepared to stand up in public and say the things they said in private, they’re going to have to work a lot harder to persuade the British people that Europe can be trusted with a proper reform agenda,” Hunt told Sky news.

Britain’s ruling Conservatives face domestic pressure from Eurosceptic voters and have hemorrhaged support to the anti-EU UKIP party, which topped May’s European Union elections, pushing Cameron into third place.

Defense Secretary Philip Hammond also criticized those he said had told Britain they shared concerns over the direction of the 28-member bloc.

“We expect people to step up to the plate publicly,” he told Sky. “(I am) very disappointed that all those who indicated that they shared our concerns about the way Europe is heading didn’t stand up on the day and be counted.”

Juncker will now go before the European Parliament for a confirmation vote on July 16, where he is likely to win a majority of center-right and center-left lawmakers.

Reporting By Costas Pitas; editing by Ralph Boulton

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