In the first part of our interview, you talked about the Greek crisis as a challenging moment. You also saw Brexit and the process that followed the UK decision to leave. What will you remember?
Jean-Claude Juncker: I’m still disappointed with the British who, in a narrow majority, decided to leave the European Union. And I am convinced that this will not have positive effects in the UK and will have opposite effects in the continent and in Ireland, which, geographically, is not part of the continent, but which is psychologically much more European than Britain. big.
Were you surprised by the desire to leave?
No, the result of the referendum was not unexpected. I was the only one in the Commission who said: You see, the British will vote for Brexit. The British commissioner – Lord Hill, in charge of financial services – will not stop saying that the Cameron government would win the referendum and that Brexit would not happen. And, for my part, I would not stop saying no, he would lose and that would be a yes to Brexit. I bet a pound, a coin I later kept in my pocket. It’s a souvenir because it has become a marginal currency ever since.
When, for 47 or 48 years, you never stop telling your citizens – despite the government, with a few rare exceptions – that you are a member of Europe solely for economic and internal market reasons, that the rest is small and not to bother you, that you are not an interested party in this great European adventure, then you should not be surprised that the British vote according to what they have heard for almost five decades.
What do you think of Michel Barniers work?
I appointed him as negotiator without much consultation when he was willing to set aside the Commission for the benefit of the member states. He held that position with grace, obedience, and determination. It was one of the best decisions I could make in terms of people I was asked to do something during my Commission presidency. I consulted with him on a daily basis while insisting with the prime ministers of the member states on the need to maintain our cohesion.
Was this an urgent need?
There was not a single day when the British stopped trying to divide the member states by making great promises to those who would support them in their disastrous mission. There would have been controversy if their efforts were successful.
Did the Brit disappoint you because of the lack of fair play?
No, because something else honestly disappointed me before that. For days and nights, I negotiated an agreement with David Cameron – who was against my appointment as chairman of the Commission – before the referendum campaign, which would have been a major step forward for Europe and would have allowed the British to steer forward with more transparency. But that did not play a role in the campaign, as Cameron simply did not explain what was agreed. From then on, I did not expect much.
For example, he asked me not to travel to England during the Brexit campaign. And I mistakenly listened to his advice. Would anything have changed? I do not think so.
Europe goes its own way, without the UK
But we are losing a jewel in terms of international influence. The British, with the French, are the only military power in Europe, the only European members of the UN Security Council All this has disappeared in a rather brutal way. Fortunately before that we started what it takes to become a Defense Europe to remain influential internationally.
On this issue, was Brexit an advantage?
On the same day, convincing other member states of the necessity of a Europe of Defense became much easier.
What was the rule you never wanted to break in the discussion with the heads of state?
First, I always respect my interlocutors. Secondly, I remember that most of those I negotiate with do not come from countries that are models of democracy, which does not prevent me from slipping into my remarks on human rights. Which I did with the Chinese, in particular.
I have always restrained myself, in my conversations, from referring to domestic and domestic political problems, while knowing the detailed details of these problems and debates that were rocking the countries I visited.
The Chairman of the Commission should always be well informed
Even in Europe I wanted to be okay with the truth of what was happening to others. Every Friday, I received a report from the Commission’s representation in the various member states. I did the same internationally with the ambassadors’ reports. I read everything.
Every day, I get a dozen phone calls from the European Prime Minister and, for that reason, I had to be well informed Especially since those who contact you never say why they are presenting this or that problem, or why they are presenting it this way. If you are informed, you understand immediately, and when you respond, your interlocutors think you know.
The smallest details are calculated
I have always said that small member states should have big ears. The same is true for the Commission. Jacques Delors often told me that the president has no allies, but only representatives around him, traveling salesmen, national interests.
Where are you in your memoirs?
The pandemic is preventing me from consulting my archives in Brussels, part of which is also at the University of Florence. But I do not have archivists at my disposal. At the moment, other uncertainties are stopping me from applying the discipline needed to write, but the project is definitely still there.
How do you organize your time at the moment?
I would spend a day and a half a week in Brussels, leaving Wednesday morning to return on Thursday. But the pandemic has changed things, especially in terms of cross-border travel. Even if I think the Belgian customs officers would still allow me. At least, I hope so
This interview was first published in French in Paperjam.lu and has been translated and edited for Delano.
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