A few days ago, Pierre-Antoine Klethi wrote on this blog a call to vote for Jean-Claude Juncker, candidate of the European People’s Party (EPP) for the commission presidency. Considering the latest projection of seats in the 2014 European elections, it seems likely that Juncker and his party will take the presidency: they are currently leading the polls and have a two-percent-advantage compared to the Social Democrats (S&D) and their candidate Martin Schulz. So it appears that the EU is set for the Luxembourgish politician as president of the commission. But can Juncker really be considered as the best option for this crucial position in the institutional triangle (commission, parliament, council of ministers) of the EU? Several of Juncker’s actions in his career up until now cast a doubt on his credibility and suitability as next president of the commission:
1) “When it becomes serious, you have to lie”
It was in May 2011, when the Euro crisis escalated and rumors circulated in the markets that Greece was about to leave the Euro zone. Juncker was president of the Euro-group in this crucial period for the Euro. Spiegel Online reported that Euro-zone finance ministers were to hold a secret meeting in Luxembourg to discuss a possible Greek exit. Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal reporters questioned Juncker’s spokesperson Guy Schuller about this meeting, who repeatedly told them no meeting would be held. This denial turned out to be a lie, as there was in fact a meeting, but not on the possibility of Greece leaving the Euro-zone. Confronted with his earlier statement, Schuller told the WSJ: “I was told to say there was no meeting”. Juncker later explained his behavior by referring to the fact that financial markets tend to overheat quickly, and also said that he lied in order not to fuel rumors and speculation. Juncker’s lying did not manage to calm the markets on this occasion, quite on the contrary: it led to increased panic and severely undermined trust in European decision-makers.
It was not the first time Juncker came out in favor of lying in matters of financial and economic communication. In a conference on economic governance in April 2011 covered by the EUobserver, he said on tape regarding touchy economic issues: “When it becomes serious, you have to lie”. In this conference he admitted to often have lied in his career to prevent rumors spreading and said that monetary policy was too important to be discussed in public, but should instead be discussed in “dark secret rooms, behind closed doors”. Juncker furthermore stated: “I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious […] I am for secret, dark debates”.
One of the reasons many citizens nowadays feel alienated by the EU is due to the fact that a lot of decision-making is still being made in a non-transparent and undemocratic manner behind closed doors. Juncker has not only come out in favor of such decision-making process in the past, but has repeatedly lied to citizens about the Euro-zone. Can citizens trust such a politican to put the EU back on track and to rekindle people’s faith in the European project?
2) Advocate of the banks
It is true that Juncker was one of the longest-serving democratically elected leaders in the world by being Prime Minister of Luxembourg for 18 years, from 1995 till 2013. But since the beginning of his political career, the Luxembourgish politician has mainly represented the interests of the banks. During his time as Prime Minister, he fervently defended Luxembourg’s bank secrecy. Juncker also made sure that banks profited on a European scale when he helped to write the Maastricht treaty. He is one of the main responsible for article 104 in the Maastricht treaty, which has been adopted in the Lisbon treaty in article 123. This article basically grants private commercial banks the monopoly to issue loans in EU member states.
3) Questionable understanding of democracy
As president of the Euro-group, Juncker chose to include the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to solve the Euro-crisis. Together with the European Central Bank and the European Commission, these institutions formed the well-known “Troika”, which has been criticized for subjugating Greece and other southern European countries to too drastic austerity programs that have severely crippled their economies. Juncker circumvented the democratically elected European parliament and national parliaments in the creation of the “Troika”. In a recent inquiry by the European parliament, several leading MEPs like EPP vice-president Othmar Karas deemed the work of the “Troika” as “non-transparent and undemocratic”.
Juncker’s questionable understanding of democracy should not come as a surprise. In an interview accorded to the German magazine Spiegel in 1999, he said: “We decide on something, put it out there and then wait some time for something to happen. Then, when there are no clamors and uprising, because many don’t get the gist of what has been decided, we move on – step by step, until there is no going back”.
Juncker is certainly a cunning politician and string-puller who has mastered the art of back-stairs-politics, building alliances and fostering networks in the political arena of the EU, but as some of his actions have showed in the past, he has serious issues with democratic decision-making.
Jean-Claude Juncker as next president of the European Commission would be a step in the wrong direction for the European Union, and would not help to solve the crisis of trust the EU is currently facing.