(Image: Thierry Charlier/ AFP via Getty)
BY MINOAS VITALIS, Europe Editor
With little over a year to go until the next European Parliament elections, it is time to look back at Jean-Claude Juncker’s term at the helm of the European Commission.
If any individual represents the out of touch EU elite, it is Jean-Claude Juncker. Mr Juncker, before being appointed President of the Commission, was Luxembourg’s prime minister and the Union’s longest-serving leader. He was forced to resign due to a scandal involving illegal phone tapping and bugging of politicians and others.
Juncker also headed the Eurogroup meetings of finance ministers of eurozone countries trying to manage the crisis in the EU single-currency area. During the crisis, he was described as the “master of lies” for organizing a meeting on whether Greece could remain in the Eurozone and then denying that the meeting was taking place. As a politician, Juncker has not hidden his view that leaders or ministers need to be protected from public scrutiny, even by lying. One of his many condemnable phrases was that “when it becomes serious, you have to lie”. Back in 2005 and before the French referendum about the proposed EU constitution, he correctly predicted that the European Union’s leaders and officials would ignore any rejections: “If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go‘, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’ ”. Mr Juncker also advised Gordon Brown, British Prime Minister at the time of the drafting of the Lisbon Treaty, to mislead the British public about “transfers of sovereignty”. In the end, one of the biggest mistakes was that on his watch, the UK failed to get decent terms to persuade the country to stay in the Union in the June 2016 European Union membership referendum. Instead of either resigning or being forced out, he was allowed to remain as European Commission President as if nothing had happened.
Brexit is only one of the numerous problems that the Commission and the rest of the EU institutions have failed to provide a solution for. The migrant crisis still rages on, with thousands of peoples continuing to arrive at EU external borders. The solution devised by the EU was to give billions of euros into the pockets of autocrats like Turkey’s Erdogan and to other North African governments. Not only is this policy an abject failure, but it is encouraging people to risk their lives on a perilous journey to come to Europe at a heavy cost, with the survivors often being deported after a couple of months. In addition, one has to take into account the democratic deficit of countries like Poland and the populist rhetoric of Orban in Hungary of which the EU seems completely at a loss.
Last but certainly not least, the Union’s economic policy is abysmal. Youth unemployment is around 40% in Greece, Spain and Italy, countries that have been hard hit by the economic crisis. On the other hand, Europe’s (or Germany’s) insistence on austerity policies, has led a large number of people to homelessness, abject poverty and suicide.
Juncker is a man, who despite all his faults, still cares deeply about the European project. In the end, though, David Cameron was right when he said that a man from the 80’s cannot solve the problems of the next five years, nor should a Brussels insider be trusted to carry out the changes the EU desperately needs. Juncker should never have been appointed to the European Commission. His appointment with the Spitzenkandidaten system was a dangerous power grab cloaked in the veil of reform and in the end, his legacy will be a legacy of failure and a Presidential term tainted by scandals, corruption, and blatant cronyism. A legacy that contributed to Brexit.