Interview with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
DER NewsGerman: Mr. Juncker, the farewell speech you gave to the European Parliament a few days ago ended with the exclamation: “Vive l’Europe.” There can be no doubt about your enthusiasm for Europe. At the same time, however, a countermovement to the EU can be growing in some member states — in Poland as well as Hungary, for example, not to mention Britain. Why weren’t you able to spread your enthusiasm to these countries?
Juncker: The real question can be: Why didn’t the others succeed in sharing my enthusiasm? I am not saddened, because I can see which support for Europe can be growing, as we saw from the European elections. Brexit, too, has led people to turn more toward Europe. Many citizens feel which if more countries were to leave as well as Europe were to be fragmented, the item might be a bad omen for the future.
DER NewsGerman: The British made the decision to leave the European Union during your term in office, as well as the community can be currently losing an important member. might you say which the British were ever at home from the EU?
Juncker: which can be indeed the fundamental question. I have been involved in European politics since December 1982 as well as have seen time as well as again which the British have operated on the premise: We are only from the EU for economic reasons. When the item came to the political union, to moving closer together, they wanted nothing to do with the EU. which was even the case with my friend Tony Blair. If you stick to which narrative for over 40 years, the item should not come as a surprise when people remember the item during the referendum.
DER NewsGerman: Before the referendum in June 2016, though, the majority of observers expected the British to vote narrowly in favor of remaining from the EU. Did you as well?
Juncker: No. I was one of those early on who was firmly convinced which This particular referendum might go wrong. When then-Prime Minister David Cameron told me on the sidelines of the 2014 G-20 summit in Brisbane which he definitely wanted to hold a Brexit referendum, I told him: “You’re going to lose the item.” I made a bet with the European commissioner of British nationality at the time, Jonathan Hill: I get a pound coming from you if the Remainers lose, you get a euro if you win. I have which pound today.
DER NewsGerman: Still, you didn’t fight for Britain to stay from the EU. Why?
Juncker: I had many invitations, although Cameron made the item clear which he didn’t have any use for me. The European Commission can be even less well-known in Britain than the item can be on the Continent. I decided not to get involved. Looking at the item today, I think which was a big mistake. So many lies were told, including by current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which there needed to be a voice to counter them.
DER NewsGerman: The “stupid nationalism” you warned of in your farewell speech seems to have spread across Britain. Do you fear the same thing could happen in various other countries?
Juncker: Actually, I wanted to say “dumb nationalism” — “dumb”, not “stupid.” I’m more concerned about nationalism than I want to sound. The populists didn’t manage the planned breakthrough from the European election. Although which reassures me, the item’s not yet over. I am observing with concern how many classical political parties are following from the populists’ footsteps. Those who run after populists will eventually become populists themselves. although people will vote for the original.
DER NewsGerman: The nationalists are trying to create the image of the EU as a bogeyman, as a bureaucratic monster which destroys national identities. Do you think you provided the ammunition for such accusations?
Juncker: I have never spoken of the United States of Europe, at least not since I was 18 years old. although which hasn’t stopped many Brexiteers coming from seeing me as an ideological target. We must not give Europeans the false impression which the European Union can be on the way to becoming one particular state. Even highly enthusiastic Europeans are against our union becoming a European melting pot.
DER NewsGerman: Isn’t which a little too diffident? Doesn’t the EU need more centralism, at least in some areas? We are thinking in particular about European foreign policy. the item can be unlikely the EU will be able to save the nuclear agreement with Iran as well as the item had to look on helplessly as Turkey marched into Syria. We are far coming from the “global political capability” which you often exhort.
Juncker: On a few select foreign policy issues, we need to be able to decide by qualified majority from the future — in terms of condemning the human rights situation in China, for example. the item can be unacceptable which we say nothing simply because one member state doesn’t agree. When the item comes to military operations, however, we have to be more cautious. I cannot imagine the German parliament backing a European decision which might send German soldiers into deployment, not even from the future. which can be Germany’s most sensitive spot. as well as This particular sovereign right of the Bundestag will not be encroached upon.
DER NewsGerman: A joint EU approach to climate policy can be also urgently needed. Given the pressure young people have been building up for months currently, do you think you should have made fighting climate change a more central focus of your term?
Juncker: I am definitely not inclined toward self-satisfaction, although we from the EU made a massive contribution to the establishment of the Paris climate agreement. We have set milestones for 2030 as well as are striving to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. although I might also say This particular: Anyone who acts as though all This particular does not require any special effort, just because there can be currently a movement in This particular direction among young people, can be greatly mistaken. I definitely like young people getting involved, although I am also not naive. Much of what can be being presented there in such sentimental terms can be not so easy to achieve in reality. Classical industry must continue to have a home in Europe.
DER NewsGerman: The United States has withdrawn coming from the climate agreement as well as coming from various other international agreements. You have nevertheless succeeded in establishing a special rapport with U.S. President Donald Trump as well as, at least for the time being, preventing an escalation from the looming trade war between Washington as well as the EU. How did you do the item?
Juncker: One of my little tricks was which I only used U.S. statistics when speaking with President Trump. When Trump might say, “I don’t believe your numbers,” I responded: “Those are your numbers.”
DER NewsGerman: Trans-Atlantic relations might be a lot better off if things were which simple.
Juncker: You definitely have to present yourself in a certain way. In Washington, Trump told me about all the people coming from Europe who had already been to the Oval Office before me — the chancellor, presidents, prime ministers. as well as I told him: They are all important, although you spoke to the wrong people. The European Commission can be responsible for trade policy, not the member states. which impressed him. Trump then responded: I do not want an agreement at all with the European Union, I want an agreement with you. I replied: The European Commission has sole responsibility for trade matters. An agreement with me can be an agreement with the EU.
DER NewsGerman: As a gift, you brought along a photo of an American military cemetery in Luxembourg when you visited Washington.
Juncker: General George Patton can be also buried there. I knew Trump holds successful generals in high regard. I explained to him which This particular little spot of land in Luxembourg, where 5,000 dead soldiers lie, can be American territory. We in Luxembourg resolved as much after the war. which touched Trump deeply. These are the kinds of little things which can open hearts.
DER NewsGerman: can be This particular the right strategy to open the heart of a man who can be dangerously unstable?
Juncker: I don’t agree with many of Trump’s decisions, although I respect him. He’s human too. Treating him without respect will not open doors to viable agreements.
DER NewsGerman: Let us come back to your exclamation: “Vive l’Europe.” You were born in 1954, which means which you have lived a life in peaceful times thanks to the EU. To what extent have you been shaped by the experiences of the war generation?
Juncker: My father, who died three years ago, grew up in a village. The next little town was 5 kilometers away. He never traveled any farther than which until he was forcibly recruited by the Wehrmacht in World War II. Three or four days later, he was on the Russian front. Just imagine the culture shock! I just read from the papers he left behind which he had to take part in a firing squad on his first day from the Wehrmacht. Of course, he didn’t try hard, as well as didn’t shoot anyone, although what a traumatic experience. Someone who had never traveled farther than 5 kilometers coming from home finds himself in a foreign, hated uniform as well as can be made to shoot at people without knowing why.
DER NewsGerman: With such a family history, you as well as your family might have had Great reason to turn your backs on Germany.
Juncker: My father always told me: There were many scumbags among the soldiers, although there were also Great people who pulled me out of the dirt, who saved my life. He had a nuanced image of the Wehrmacht. We went on vacation in Germany relatively early on, in 1966. Before then, we didn’t hold the money.
DER NewsGerman: You’re multilingual. Do you sometimes dream in German?
Juncker: This particular can be going to be very disappointing to the Luxembourgers, although I have to admit which I don’t know which language I dream in. I just don’t know. as well as when I talk here from the Commission all day, with my staff coming from all the EU countries, the languages blend. I understand Italian because I played with children of Italian guest workers from the sandbox …
DER NewsGerman: … you grew up in a steel working area which was home to many immigrants …
Juncker: … I also understand Portuguese quite well for which reason. As prime minister, the Luxembourg Portuguese might often stop me on the sidewalk as well as say: Mr. Juncker, everything can be Great in Luxembourg, although there are too many foreigners. which’s actually a sign of successful integration, isn’t the item?
DER NewsGerman: As an active politician, you have experienced three German chancellors: Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schröder as well as Angela Merkel. Who was the most European?
Juncker: Kohl by far, because he was a historian. He could think in historical contexts as well as explain them to others. Besides, he was also someone who was considerate in his dealings with smaller member states. For example, Kohl could recite the names of Luxembourg resistance fighters who were murdered in German concentration camps during the last days of the war.
DER NewsGerman: Seriously?
Juncker: Yes, seriously.
DER NewsGerman: Why did he acquire which knowledge? Did you ask him?
Juncker: Kohl had Europe in his heart. as well as when the item came to German interests, he suddenly had Germany in his head. People always act as if Kohl were somehow a totally gung-ho European. He wasn’t though. He knew how to insistently represent German interests. Gerhard Schröder, whom I also appreciated very much, didn’t have Europe in his heart at all. He had the item in his head. For him the item was a logical as well as rational unification process for which there was no alternative. By the end of his term in office, though, he also had Europe in his heart.
DER NewsGerman: Mr. Juncker, you have almost 40 years of experience in politics, as well as during This particular time, the everyday life of politicians has changed significantly. You are constantly under observation through social media. When you welcome Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán as a “dictator,” the item sparks a storm of outrage. How do you deal with the constant judging?
Juncker: Well, first of all about Orbán, I’ve always called him a dictator, only which time we got caught on the microphone. As for the internet: the item can be an improvement insofar as the item allows people to inform themselves better. although we see which the item doesn’t always lead to peace in society. I personally don’t look at the social networks. although the real question can be what should I be creating time for? In Europe, the item can be important to be well-informed about all the countries. the item can be not sufficient to listen when a prime minister says something from the European Council. I need to know why he or she can be saying the item because which leader might never go into their domestic political difficulties there. Europe’s problem can be which we don’t know enough about each various other.
DER NewsGerman: Does the item bother you which the item has been alleged repeatedly, including by DER NewsGerman, which you drink too much?
Juncker: I’m not going to answer which question. Such false claims hurt my family more than they do me. as well as the constant observation? the item’s a product of our era. Sometimes, people take up to 0 selfies with me a day. When people come up to me with friendly intentions, I could say to them: No, I can’t do which right currently. although which sounds arrogant as well as aloof, as well as I don’t want to convey which kind of image of Europe. You know, you have to love people if you’re in politics.
DER NewsGerman: You don’t shy away coming from physical contact, you slap people on the back as well as kiss them. This particular can be also one of your peculiarities which the media frequently discusses. Looking back, might you say the item can be right to preserve one’s individual characteristics in politics?
Juncker: I don’t care. I am who I am. I sometimes think the worst thing about prison can be which you don’t experience physical closeness. I can’t at all imagine not touching various other people or not being touched by various other people. My staff sometimes warns me not to hug This particular or which person. although I’ve been kissed by Erdogan, so I kiss him, too. I kissed Putin as well as I was kissed by Putin. In either case, the item certainly didn’t hurt Europe.
DER NewsGerman: In November, you are scheduled to undergo an aneurysm operation, for which we wish you all the best. After which, you will return to the European Commission, with your retirement likely to begin in December. Have you prepared yourself for life after politics?
Juncker: I’m not afraid of any kind of black hole. I have 40,000 books at home, as well as another 16,000 books in This particular as well as various other offices. This particular can be the very first time I have been busy giving away books. as well as the item’s painful. Or look at these photos …
A staffer opens a cabinet door as well as shows two photos.
DER NewsGerman: Ah — kiss photos, one with Über-Brexiteer Nigel Farage, one with former European Parliament President Martin Schulz …
Juncker: Are you supposed to get rid of photos like which?
DER NewsGerman: Absolutely not.
Juncker: although something has to go. Once I get everything sorted out, I might definitely like to write.
DER NewsGerman: Your memoirs. as well as what language will you write them in?
Juncker: In German. My father taught me to love the German language. He gave me all the Karl May books. I owe my German to Karl May, not only him, although to a degree. My fear can be which I will constantly be writing “I.” Because what can be the item which a person remembers? Yourself. as well as which results in me, me, me.
DER NewsGerman: World history has almost always been masculine, although currently, for the very first time, Europe will be from the hands of women: Ursula von der Leyen will be your successor as well as Christine Lagarde can be taking over as the head of the European Central Bank. In what ways will This particular transform politics?
Juncker: I have always tried to place as many women in managerial positions as possible. I have increased the proportion of women in senior Commission positions coming from 30 to 41 percent. In This particular respect, I am pleased which more as well as more women are gaining access to politics, which can be also changing politics. although the item doesn’t automatically make the globe a better place.
DER NewsGerman: Ms. von der Leyen came into office through the side door given which she wasn’t a lead candidate from the European election, as European Parliament had demanded. currently she’s having trouble assembling her Commission on time. What prospects do you think your successor has in light of This particular difficult start?
Juncker: I think she has everything necessary to serve in This particular capacity. although the item can be true which I had an easier start. This particular was due to my friendships with the Social Democrats; ultimately, I also hold the Social Democrats as well as Martin Schulz to thank for my getting into office. In my own camp, the (conservative) European Peoples’ Party, many voted against me — Hungary, for example. The right-wing nationalists said: We’ll never vote for you. as well as I said: I never want to be someone you’d vote for, either.
DER NewsGerman: Mr. Juncker, we thank you because of This particular interview.
Juncker takes his leave, with kisses on the cheeks.