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21st Sep 2019

Juncker tries to lighten mood at Brexit summit

  • Juncker on Tuesday: “The commission would do anything to avoid any kind of bank run in Italy” (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tried to lighten the mood after the EU summit on Brexit, but the Dutch PM got the only laugh.

The press auditorium at the EU Council in Brussels on Tuesday laughed out loud when a BBC reporter asked EU leaders what the UK had left going for it amid the turbulent events following last week’s vote to leave Europe.

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  • Dutch PM Rutte (l), standing next to Donald Tusk, got the only laugh (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

“It has the BBC”, Dutch PM Mark Rutte joked.

But Juncker, who is facing criticism for his style of leadership, got a leaden reaction to his quips on languages and football.

He also had to make a hasty correction on a potential “bank run” in Italy.

He said he would speak about Brexit in English because people had complained that earlier the same day he had neglected to use “the language of Shakespeare” while addressing the European Parliament.

“I’m the only one who can’t speak in his own language because none of you understand Luxembourgish”, the former Luxembourg leader added.

“How’s your Polish?”, EU Council chief Donald Tusk, a former Polish PM, said.

“My knowledge of Polish is as approximate as other people’s knowledge of other languages. I like Polish literature, but I read it in German”, Juncker replied, prompting an awkward silence.

Football

Later in the briefing, he poked fun at the Dutch football team, which had failed to qualify for the Euro 2016 championship.

Rutte jested in return: “This is a painful subject raised by my good friend, whose team I’ve never seen in any championship”.

Juncker said: “That’s what I meant to say: That you have reached the level of Luxembourg [in soccer terms]”.

There was another awkward silence, before Rutte said: “Thank you for that encouraging thought”.

The commission chief also made off-the-cuff remarks on Brexit and on Italian banks.

Two days

He said if the UK chose a new leader from the Remain side in the EU referendum campaign, then he should start EU exit talks two weeks later. But he said a new leader from the Leave side would get “one day”.

The EU has no legal right to tell the UK when to start the talks.

The commission chief spoke in personal terms about UK leader David Cameron.

He indirectly accused Cameron of losing the referendum because he had “day after day, starting in the morning and finishing in the evening” blamed the EU for his country’s problems prior to the campaign.

“I like him as a person, although he has always behaved toward me in a specific way”, Juncker added, without giving more detail.

Bank run

Wrapping up the press event, Juncker said he had spoken with Italian PM Matteo Renzi about Italian banks.

He said “the commission would do anything to avoid any kind of bank run in Italy”, before pausing to add “this is not a danger for Italy for the time being”.

A bank run is a scenario in which savers rush to withdraw money amid panic that a bank might collapse, precipitating that collapse itself.

Renzi is in talks with Juncker on creating an Italian bank bailout fund, with loose words on “bank runs” at risk of making savers and markets nervous.

The commission chief has faced harsh scrutiny since the shock UK vote.

He told MEPs on Tuesday morning that he is in fit physical condition to “fight for a united Europe”. Four leaders from easterly EU states had said earlier in the week that Juncker should consider stepping down.

Juncker to critics: 'I'm not tired or sick'

The EU commission chief brushed off calls for his resignation over his personal style and his handling of the UK vote. Some fear his departure would aggravate the crisis.

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Juncker dismisses criticism of Brexit performance

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