Wednesday

12th May 2021

Juncker dismisses criticism of Brexit performance

  • Tusk (r) defended Juncker (l) on Brexit (Photo: consilum.europa.eu)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said he “doesn’t care” about criticism of his handling of Brexit and told Austria to “stop messing around” on complaints that he bypassed national MPs.

“Some have said that I interfered in the Dutch referendum on Ukraine and some others have criticised me for not becoming involved in the UK issue and frankly, I don’t care”, he told press after an EU summit in Brussels on Wednesday (29 June).

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“I have no intention of being influenced one way or another by this kind of criticism”, he said.

He said that he had stayed out of the national UK debate at British prime minister David Cameron’s request.

His reference to the Dutch referendum came after he told Dutch people in April that it would cause a “continental crisis” if they rejected an EU-Ukraine trade treaty. Dutch voters later rejected the treaty.

EU Council chief Donald Tusk, who also attended Wednesday's press briefing, defended the commission chief.

He said Juncker had negotiated the best deal possible on the UK's reformed EU membership prior to the British referendum.

"I don’t understand this kind of thinking," he added, referring to those who blamed the commission chief.

Leaders and ministers from some central and eastern European states had, prior to the summit, said that Juncker should resign over Brexit. Poland also said that Tusk should step down.

Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo repeated the idea on Wednesday, but in less strident terms than before.

“Politicians must take responsibility for their work … political responsibility for what happened among those around the table yesterday was voiced only by [British leader] David Cameron. That’s all I wanted to say at this point”, she said.

Hungarian leader Viktor Orban said it was the wrong moment to attack the commission chief.

“It would be cheap and unchivalrous to attack the EU commission president in such a situation. We won't do it”, he said.

"Hungary will not call for personal consequences,” he said.

He said he “understood” Juncker’s “frustration” that leaders, such as Cameron, constantly complained about the EU. “Brussels is full of frustrated people”, he said.

But he added that neither Hungary or the UK had backed Juncker for the EU job in 2014.

He also said that further EU integration, such as the new election-linked process that led to Juncker’s elevation, was one reason for British euroscepticism.

“These smaller episodes played a part in the bigger drama, the exit of the UK”, Orban said.

Austria criticism

Juncker and Orban had earlier fallen out over a commission plan to impose migrant relocation quotas on member states.

Juncker and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern are currently at odds over the role of national MPs in the ratification of an EU trade pact with Canada, also known as CETA.

The commission opted to ratify it directly without the 28 national EU parliaments, but Kern said that the Brexit crisis showed people wanted more national say over EU decisions.

Juncker said on Wednesday that he felt “duty bound to bring this [trade pact] to the moment of ratification”.

He said G7 leaders and all EU leaders individually had urged him to do the same.

“To say I had a personal preference that national parliaments shouldn’t have a say is absurd”, he added. He said that he “respected Austrian democracy”, but told Kern to “stop messing around”.

US trade deal

Kern continued his criticism at the EU summit.

Contradicting Juncker, he told press that the leaders of Germany, France and Luxembourg shared his point of view.

He also warned that if the EU failed to win public support for CETA, then it would jeopardise the success of an EU-US trade pact, known as TTIP, which is being negotiated.

"If you approach CETA in this way then I have no doubt that TTIP will immediately be buried as well," Kern said.

French president Francois Hollande voiced similar views.

He told journalists that national parliaments should hold debates on the Canada agreement. "It takes more time, but it is part of what we must offer to the democratic debate," he said.

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