Thursday

18th Apr 2019

Who is Jean-Claude Juncker?

  • "I had to lie. I am a Christian Democrat, a Catholic, so when it becomes serious we have to lie." (Photo: EPP)

Britain's tabloid The Sun portrayed him as "the most dangerous man in Europe". Prime Minister David Cameron linked Britain's EU membership to him, while other leaders and MEPs said that without him as Commission chief, democracy itself would be undermined.

All the buzz surrounding Britain's opposition to his nomination has made him probably the first widely-known head of an EU institution. But who is Jean-Claude Juncker?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The 59-year old Luxembourg politician was the EU's longest serving prime minister until last year, when he lost his post due to an illegal wiretapping scandal.

Luxembourg's intelligence service (SREL) last year was embroiled in a scandal when it emerged that it had carried out illegal wiretaps, kept secret files on people and run a fictional counterterror operation to cover for a Russian oligarch.

Juncker said he was not aware of the abuses, but he had to step down, prompting early elections, in which his party gained the most seats. But the Grand Duke of Luxembourg tasked Liberal Xavier Bettel, not Juncker, with forming a government.

Often portrayed as a 'veteran' in EU politics, Juncker was a finance minister when Germany was governed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, with whom he helped lay down the foundations of the euro.

Juncker started out relatively young. He was 35 years old when appointed finance minister in 1989, a post he held for twenty years, partially overlapping with his premiership (1995-2013).

From 2005 until 2013, Juncker was also chairman of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, which became instrumental in negotiating and supervising bailout packages for the countries that faced bankruptcy in the euro crisis: Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus.

Back in 2011, during a debate in Brussels recorded by EUobserver Juncker admitted that he often had to lie to journalists about secret meetings held at the height of the euro-crisis, in order to prevent markets from betting against troubled countries.

"I am for secret, dark debates," he quipped.

He recalled an instance where journalists asked him if there would be a meeting in Paris the following weekend.

"I said no. I had to lie. I am a Christian Democrat, a Catholic, so when it becomes serious we have to lie. The same applies to economic and monetary policy in the Union, I am very serious about it. If you are pre-indicating policy decisions, you are feeding speculations on the financial markets," he explained.

He described calls for transparency of Eurogroup meetings as "naive".

"If the German, the French, the President of the Eurogroup and the Central Bank are sitting together, it takes some time to agree. But during that time, financial markets are reacting to this or that proposal," he argued.

"I'm ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious," Juncker said.

He also didn't shy away from publicly clashing with the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, about the number of years required for Greece to be able to pay back its debt.

Kidney stones and drinks

The lengthy Eurogroup sessions at the height of the euro-crisis in 2010-2012, which usually lasted until the early hours of the following day, took a toll on Juncker, who often joked about his physical exhaustion.

In one instance, he complained about his kidney stones, which made the all-nighter even more painful.

He is also a heavy smoker and drinker, according to his successor at the Eurogroup helm, Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem.

One EU official told this website it will be challenging for Juncker to keep up the pace for five years as president of the EU commission, with all the meetings and travels it involves.

But another source who has seen him at work said he is "fully functional" and dismissed reports – largely in the British press – about his alleged drinking problem.

If anything, Juncker will be a change from outgoing commission chief Jose-Manuel Barroso when it comes to humour. Asked in the campaign what will be the first thing he'll do once elected EU commission chief, Juncker joked: "First I will sleep."

Eurogroup chief: 'I'm for secret, dark debates'

Eurozone economic policies should only be conducted via "dark, secret debates", to prevent dangerous movements in financial markets, the Eurogroup chief said on Wednesday, adding that he had often lied in his career to prevent the spread of rumours that could feed speculation.

Agenda

More EU top jobs handed out this WEEK

The saga of who will get the EU's top jobs will move a step closer to conclusion this week, in the last major event before the EU institutions begin their six-week summer recess.

Cameron mends ties with Juncker

British PM Cameron has reached out to Juncker, after having failed to prevent his nomination as European Commission chief.

Juncker: Economics commissioner will be a Socialist

Future EU commission chief Juncker has promised the economics commissioner post to a Socialist, as part of a grand coalition-type of deal between the centre-right and centre-left ahead of a European Parliament vote on Tuesday.

Analysis

Bell tolls for EU asylum reforms

The cornerstone the EU's asylum reforms referred to by the shorthand as 'Dublin' could end up in the scrapheap following the European elections in May.

Opinion

The democratic swindle of the Spitzenkandidat

The Spitzenkandidat system has become an instrument of the promotion of MEPs (often German), and was supposed to make Europe more democratic. Reality has revealed the opposite.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us