Juncker : portrait of a EU veteran (Part one)

Article published on July 19, 2014
Article published on July 19, 2014

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Jean-Claude Juncker has been elected to Par­lia­ment de­spite a lack of pop­u­lar sup­port. How­ever, this doesn't nec­es­sar­ily mean that mem­bers of the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment have en­dorsed the man be­hind the politi­cian. Un­be­knownst to most peo­ple, and fol­low­ing the foot­steps of his pre­de­ces­sors, the Lux­em­bourger de­serves to be the lead char­ac­ter of a two-part story.

Less than a month ago, after learn­ing that Juncker has be­come the newest ten­ant of Berlay­mont, British news­pa­per The Sun pub­lished an ar­ti­cle ti­tled : « Six rea­sons why this is the most dan­ger­ous man in Eu­rope ». Across the chan­nel, Jean-Claude Juncker cer­tainly drew the at­ten­tion of the Eu­ro­pean media re­gard­ing his can­di­dacy as pres­i­dent of the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, fast be­com­ing the tar­get of vi­cious ac­cu­sa­tions aimed at tar­nish­ing his image : a fraud, an al­co­holic, a smoker, a trai­tor's son, a con­spir­a­tor, and even an ac­tive mem­ber of Bilder­berg (a very se­cre­tive club ex­clu­sively for diplo­mats, politi­cians and pow­er­ful peo­ple, ndlr)... and fur­ther non­sense that goes to show just how lit­tle is known about Juncker out­side the Grand-Duchy of Lux­em­bourg. 

An im­pres­sive CV

« Power is the best aphro­disiac », as­sured Henri Kissinger. A sub­ject that would prob­a­bly not be open for dis­cus­sion by Jean-Claude Juncker given his long and con­tro­ver­sial ca­reer. At 59 years old, the Lux­em­bourger has had a ca­reer in pol­i­tics span­ning forty years, thirty years in the pub­lic eye, and ten years as a major player of Eu­ro­pean high pol­i­tics. A mild con­ser­v­a­tive, a firm be­liever of eu­ropeism, and at the same time a par­ti­san of aus­ter­ity and a fierce ad­vo­cate of the greek cause against a vin­dic­tive Ger­many; keeper of fi­nan­cial se­crets, and re­cently, seek­ing the ap­proval of the min­i­mum salary for Eu­rope, the Lux­em­bourger seems to have be­come an ide­ol­o­gist, but mostly with a « prag­matic » end, quite ac­cus­tomed to the treach­er­ous plots that sprout under the cover of dark­ness, the one thou­sand miles of dis­tance be­tween Ger­many and France, and the com­mit­ments ex­pected first thing in the morn­ing.

Fol­low­ing the foot­steps of his pre­de­ces­sor, the Por­tuguese José Manuel Bar­roso, who was, dur­ing the Car­na­tion Rev­o­lu­tion in 1974, pres­i­dent of maoist stu­dents, Jean-Claude Juncker took his first steps to­wards the world of pol­i­tics as a mem­ber of a rad­i­cal left-wing group, the trot­skies. « When I was 17 years old, dur­ing the re­bel­lion, I was fas­ci­nated by the IV In­ter­na­tional and I tried to ex­plain to my par­ents that the bour­geois life, in my eyes, didn't rep­re­sent any­thing », he stated a cou­ple of years ago to a local news­pa­per. 

After be­com­ing a mem­ber of the Chris­t­ian So­cial­ist Party (CSV) in 1974, he joined the Lux­em­bourg gov­ern­ment when he was 28 years old. He was at that time the Sec­re­tary of State Labor and State Se­cu­rity, mak­ing him one of the youngest Eu­ro­pean min­is­ters in his­tory. In 1984, he was elected for the first time to the Cham­ber of Deputies, named min­is­ter of Labor, and ap­pointed min­is­ter of Fi­nance. His ad­min­is­tra­tion, then under the watch­ful eye of Jacques San­ter - for­mer pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion - had to face the in­fa­mous string of bomb­ing in­ci­dents - a high-pro­file case bet­ter known as Bomeleeër - that shook the en­tire na­tion of Lux­em­bourg be­tween 1984 and 1986, and which mys­tery still lingers on every­one's mind. In 1995, M. San­ter, head of the Com­mis­sion, was ap­pointed Prime Min­is­ter by the grand duke Jean.  Nev­er­the­less, he con­tin­ued to han­dle the fi­nances of the Min­istry of Fi­nance and Labor and, as a re­sult, he is re­garded as a crafts­man of il­licit fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tions for which the coun­try is often ac­cused. 

The sur­vivor of Maas­tricht

Above all else, re­gard­ing his mul­ti­ple du­ties as a politi­cian, it must be ac­knowl­edge that M. Juncker ex­cels under the enor­mous pres­sure of a busy Eu­ro­pean agenda, an in­valu­able trait amongst politi­cians. He is the only per­son who was pre­sent at the rat­i­fi­ca­tion cer­e­mony of the Maas­tricht Treaty in 1992. As one of ar­chi­tects of the treaty, he shared the spot­light with other well known lead­ers such as François Mit­ter­rand and Hel­mut Kohl, prompt­ing him to de­clare : « the euro and I, are the sole sur­vivors of the Treaty of Maas­tricht ». He may, in a cer­tain way, take pride in hav­ing con­tributed to the re­al­i­sa­tion of the pro­ject : « the man who al­ways gets the job done », ac­cord­ing to Le Fi­garo, was a cru­cial me­di­a­tor be­tween Ger­many, France, and the United King­dom. He was also the dri­ving force be­hind the fa­mous « opt-out » treaty clause, which pro­mul­gated the prin­ci­ple of legal with­drawal from the EU, bury­ing once and for all the dream of a per­ma­nent Eu­ro­pean uni­fi­ca­tion.

In 2005, by virtue of his se­nior­ity and vast ex­pe­ri­ence, he was cat­a­pulted into the pres­i­dency of Eu­rogroup, an in­sti­tu­tion that gath­ers the min­is­ters of Fi­nance from the Euro zone, for which he will be con­tin­u­ously re­elected, and this, amid the un­cer­tainty of a cri­sis-stricken Eu­rope that would even­tu­ally trans­form the EU. Con­se­quently, ac­cord­ing to him, he has taken part in at least 120 Eu­ro­pean sum­mits through­out his ca­reer. 

A few years later, in 2013, Juncker's ca­reer seemed to have taken a turn for the worse. His po­si­tion as head of Eu­rogroup was near its end, and the Lux­em­bourger re­lin­quished his seat to the Dutch Jeroen Di­js­sel­bloem. Soon after, on July 11 2013, after an 18 year reign, he re­signed as head of State, fol­lowed by a no­to­ri­ous es­pi­onage scan­dal in­volv­ing cit­i­zens of the Grand Duchy and Juncker's se­cret ser­vices.

Nonethe­less, a year later, on July 15, as the main can­di­date for the Eu­ro­pean Pop­u­lar Party, the biggest party in the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment, he was elected as the suc­ces­sor of José Manuel Bar­roso. A new chap­ter of Juncker's long po­lit­i­cal life, and the EU his­tory as well, may be writ­ten. But be­yond the sea­soned states­man, who is Jean-Claude Juncker ?

Jean-Claude Jun­cker fac­ing Ma­rine Le Pen at the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day dur­ing his elec­tion.

Com­ing soon, the sec­ond part of this ar­ti­cle ded­i­cated to Jean-Claude Juncker.