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Marine Le Pen won't be France's next president, says Juncker


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Marine Le Pen won't be France's next president, says Juncker

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

What could be the fatal blow for Europe? Brexit? Populism? The migrant crisis? A difficult economic situation? The EU is, today, in one of the most critical phases since its creation.The outcomes of elections in Austria, Italy, France and Germany also pose a risk to the EU.
Who better to talk to about these challenges than the President of the European Commission.Jean-Claude Juncker? Thanks for being with us on the programme.

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Bonjour, madame.

The ‘last chance’ commission

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

At the start of your mandate, you said ‘my commission will be the ‘last chance’ commission.’
How do you think the European Union can survive?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

The existence of the EU is not in doubt.


Biography: Jean-Claude Juncker

  • Joins the conservative Christian Social People’s Party in Luxembourg in 1974
  • Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 – 2013.
  • President of the European Commission since 2014
  • The longest serving head of any EU national government and one of the longest serving elected leaders in the world.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Really?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

You said the German, French and Italian elections threatened Europe’s survival. That’s not accurate. The French and German elections do not threaten the future of Europe, as far as their citizens are concerned.

But you are right, this commission which I have the honour of presiding over will be the “last chance” commission. What I meant by that was that the European Union is entering a ‘last chance’- phase because the gulf between Europe’s citizens and the public and political action of the EU is growing ever wider and I wanted to remedy that.

The EU’s weaknesses

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Exactly, and EU institutions are often criticized for being out of touch from the European people. I have a question from an online viewer – we asked our online viewers to send us questions for the interview – this one is from Moussa Boureima – what is the European Union’s biggest weakness?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

The lack of love, we do not know a great deal about each other. What do the people in Lapland know about Sicily? What do the Italians in the south know about the depths of Poland? Nothing. We need to take more of an interest in each other.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

So, at this critical time for the EU, you are about to lose a close and powerful ally.
I am of course referring to the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz . This is a big blow for you, coming at one of the toughest times?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

No, I would not describe the departure of Martin Schulz in such lofty terms.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

No?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

But it is true that I have worked well with Martin Schulz, who, by the way, was my rival for the presidency of the Commission – he was head of the Socialist list and I was head for the Christian Democrats.

We have forged strong working links with each other and there is also a deep understanding between us. In recent history relations between the European Parliament and the Commission have never been so warm and strong since his Presidency of the European Parliament.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

So won’t you be left weakened by his departure?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

I wouldn’t go as far as that. But I will miss the understanding between us.

EU house of cards?

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

But we have the impression that the European Union is looking more and more like a house of cards. Austria is holding a presidential election in a few days time that could put a far-right leader in leadership for the first time since the Second World War. There is talk of plans for a referendum then being held on EU membership. Things are getting very worrying, aren’t they?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

We can’t deny or take away the people of Europe’s right to express their views. Regarding referenda on EU membership, I think it is not wise to organise this kind of debate, not only because I might be concerned about the final result but because this will pile more controversy onto the huge number already present at the heart of the EU.

Besides, I don’t think the next president of Austria, whoever it will be, will launch themselves into this kind of escapade.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Even if he has already said so, if he has already evoked this?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

I have learned to tell the difference, between campaign promises and concrete policies. It is unthinkable that we get used to saying that campaign promises are one thing but concrete policies are another. It is a denial of democracy, we cannot simply say whatever we like during an election campaign.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

And do you think Austria could face sanctions?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

We decreed sanctions against Austria, in a moment of autobiographical weakness, when the far-right took over some government control in Austria. This was a mistake because voters should not be punished or sanctioned for making a bad choice. You have to discuss, debate, even fight with the political reality which could be like the one you describe.

But, the Austrian president has, above all, a mainly ceremonial role…

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

For now…

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Rather than one of political influence. I am not very worried, although I would not like to see the far-right candidate win.

The Italian referendum

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Italy is going to the polls on the same day for a referendum. It could cost Prime Minister Matteo Renzi his job if he loses , bringing the Eurosceptics closer to power and potentially putting the Euro in danger. Is this a new front opening up?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

I have maintained calm relations with the Italian prime minister…

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

…Tense?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

No, well, yes, on the surface ‘tense’ but we agree on the essentials when we speak face to face. The Commission has done a lot for Italy just as Italy has done a lot for the Commission.Italy has dealt with the migrant crisis in an exemplary fashion. Italy is right to complain that some – not all – but some other European countries are not giving it enough support, as Italy is making enormous efforts with the migrant crisis and in managing its consequences. During the European election campaign, and in front of the parliament, I called on the other European member states many times to show more solidarity towards Italy and Greece.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

But Italy is asking you to be more supportive but also to be more flexible in terms of the budget. You seem to have shown more flexibility with Spain and Portugal, so why not more so with Italy?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

In 2015 and 2016, Italy was able to spend more without us taking that into account under the Stability Pact – 19 billion euros more. If the Commission had not introduced elements of flexibility into the arsenal of the Stability Pact, Italy would have had to spend 19 billion euros less than it can do now.

So I do not think we will be excessively severe as far as Italy is concerned. I note that as far as the others are concerned, in Germany, Austria, in the Netherlands, I am criticised for being too flexible with Italy. Member states should agree the same measures of judgement.

The French far-right

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Turning now to the other elections I mentioned in the introduction to this interview. Soon, next April, it will be France’s turn. Another question from an online contributor now, Robert Biddle. He wants to know, if Marine Le Pen is elected, will that be the final nail in the coffin for the European project.

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

This is a hypothesis that I do not think will come to pass.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

What hypothesis?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

The hypothesis that Madame Le Pen will be the future president of the French Republic. She will not be.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Is it really realistic to say that with so much certitude, particularly after Brexit?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Listen, you must not confuse people or countries. Brexit had other, profound causes which the unlikely election of Madame Le Pen in France does not. We must not confound the two, I think that is dangerous.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Do you think, If she is elected, and this must be considered a possibility, given the latest polls, if we can rely on them these days…

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

That’s right, continue relying on the polls!

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

The question is can the EU survive if she becomes president?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

It is a question that we should not even be asking.

Shulz or Merkel?

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

In September, there will be elections in Germany. The Chancellor Angela Merkel could have your ally, Martin Shulz, to face. Who would you choose?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Every time I get involved in a national election debate, or a national referendum debate, I am told to mind my own business. Every time there is an election in a country, I am asked ‘who would you choose?’ Clearly, I am a Christian Democrat and so my choice would be obvious. This is clear, and it is in no way a reflection on Mr Schulz, whom I admire in a way that sometimes bothers other Christian Democrats.

Making an example out of Brexit

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

The Brexit vote was a game-changer that might have brought the EU to the point of no return.
I have another question from an online contributor..

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

British?

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

I don’t know, his name looks more German, Nikolaus Neumann…

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Yes, it is a German.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

He would like to know if the UK should be used as an example to discourage other countries who might be thinking of leaving?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

It is not really a question of that. I am not looking for revenge when it comes to the UK. The British have had their say by universal suffrage. I hope others do not do the same. But, regarding the UK, we must not come at this in the spirit of revenge. We must sort out the problems this has caused for the UK and for Europeans. We will make sure relations between the British Isles and the continent remain harmonious, all the while knowing that the British cannot have the same rights and advantages as citizens of the European Union.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

So what are you prepared to give up and what is non-negotiable?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Firstly, you are not the UK prime minister so I am not going to reveal to you what I already told the British Prime Minister. There is a ‘red line’ as the British say. If the UK, with its export industry and financial services wants to fully benefit from the advantages of the single market, if they want direct access to the internal market, our British friends must respect the founding and driving principles of the internal market. It is unimaginable that there could be access to the benefits of the single market, if, for example, the principle of the free movement of workers is not respected. That won’t work.

The Trump effect

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

In the middle of all these crises, we have the election of Donald Trump. You don’t seem to know what to make of him or to like him that much?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

I have trouble enough understanding my own psychological processes. So how can I begin to try and understand those of others?
We will see what happens. Relations between the US and Europe will survive.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

And Donald Trump? How do you evaluate him?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

I don’t know him. Few Europeans have met him, apart from Nigel Farage. I will see what I think when I have had the opportunity to discuss the big challenges of our era with him.

Russian sanctions

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Relations with Russia could be described as one such issue. President Barack Obama and some European leaders have said they want to maintain sanctions against Moscow. Will this be a short-term thing, given that Donald Trump is coming to power in a few months?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

We are not dependent on US foreign policy.
The US will do what it wants to do and Europeans will have their own interests within their own scope to manage.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Do you support sanctions being maintained?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Up until now, I have seen no argument for the sanctions against Russia being immediately lifted. I would like to have an agreement with Russia that goes beyond the ordinary framework, bearing in mind that without Russia, there is no security architecture in Europe.
The EU occupies 5.5 million square kilometres, Russia takes up 17.5 million. Russia must be treated as one big entity, as a proud nation. We have a lot to learn about the depths of Russia, we are very ignorant about it at the moment. I would like to have discussions on a level footing with Russia. Russia is not, as President Obama said, “a regional power”. This was a big error in assessment.

Stop preaching to Turkey

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

I’m going to talk about Turkey because Turkey is really important for you when it comes to managing the migrant crisis. President Erdogan’s has been launching threats. Is it possible for you to continue negotiating with him, can he still be your partner?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Turkey is not only an important partner because of the migrant crisis. It is certainly important because Turkey is hosting more than three million migrants and refugees on its territory, something which Europe is not doing. I would like Europe to refrain from preaching to Turkey.Turkey, like Jordan and Lebanon, is doing a lot more than Europe, so we must be humble when we are talking about it.

Otherwise, Turkey is also an essential partner for the European Union and its member states because of its location. Over the last ten years, Turkey has made a lot of progress regarding democracy, but in the last two years, particularly the last few months since the coup in July, Turkey is turning away from Europe more and more each day.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

And vice-versa?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

No, no, no. We are not driven by anti-Turkish feelings. The question that Turkey must answer is – does Turkey want to honour all the requirements needed to become a member of the European Union? I think Turkey has not yet asked itself this question and has therefore never worked out an answer.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Can you continue to negotiate with a president who is becoming increasingly authoritarian?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

I have to negotiate with a lot of people, including some whose company I would really rather not keep. The EU has links with regimes, some of which are loathsome. However, no one raises the question. We talk about Turkey, and we’re right to, but we never talk about about Saudi Arabia. We have relations with all the dictators as we have to co-organise the world. I have regular meetings with Turkey and its president from time to time they are manly and virile…. I have known him for 17 to 18 years.
I know him and he knows me.

Scandals within the Commission

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

There are conflicts within your own Commission. I am talking about the Commissioner Gunther Oettinger who is caught up in a scandal about a conflict-of-interest and accused of making racist, xenophobic and sexist comments. However, you continue to support him and have even given him a promotion. This has caused indignation, no?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Yes. But not all indignation is justified. I have not given him a promotion, I have replaced…

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

…in the budget role…

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

..the Budget Commissioner, who is leaving the Commission to take up a role at the World Bank, with someone who has been a member of the commission for seven years, someone familiar with the arcane workings of the budget system, and people with the detailed knowledge of Mr Oettinger are rare.

He made a speech in Hamburg, I think, in which the words used and terms employed were out of place, at my request, he apologised to all those who felt or were offended by his words. And I don’t see the conflict of interest. It was clumsy but not a mistake.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Rules for Commissioners say travel with lobbyists and gifts worth more than 150 euros must be declared.

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

It is true that gifts over a certain value must be declared, which they are. It is true that all contact with lobbyists must be made public, which is what the commissioners do. The fact that Mr Oettinger, at the request of the Hungarian government, used an airplane that was made available by someone who, yes, is a lobbyist, in a certain way…

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

…so you are continuing to defend him…

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

No, I am continuing to say that the press should be less malicious. Mr Oettinger responded to a parliamentary question on the 19th of May, 2016, about this trip which has caused so much interest. Why are the international press now going on about it, months later? You did not see it when it happened.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

..because it took you a few months to respond.

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

That is grotesque, Madame. Listen, don’t play the innocent journalist with me. Everything was accessible in May and now we are coming back to this affair…

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

I think the issue has come up again as we are discussing his racist and xenophobic comments made and that’s why we are going over the gaffes made by Mr Oettinger.

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

So you see, we are lumping everything together. We have changed the code of conduct of the Commission, which hardly anyone is talking about. I proposed this, I made sure it went through, that the cooling-off period for commissioners was extended to two years. As a result of the Barroso affair, I proposed a cooling-off period of three years for the President of the European Commission.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Will this be enough? Three years?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

Three years is 36 months.

What’s next for Juncker?

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

Finally, you are two years into your mandate, you have three years left, what are you going to do differently?

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

We are already doing many things differently. The Commission has presented ten priorities, we are concentrating on the big challenges of our time, we do not bother any more with the smaller problems that are best handled at member-state level or at regional level, we do not want to interfere in what would be an almost obscene way in the daily lives of European citizens.

We are concentrating on the big challenges, a digital Europe, the energy union, the capital markets union, European defence in as much as it involves the competencies of the Commission. We are holding back on the details and are ultra-present on the big challenges.

euronews – Isabelle Kumar

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, thanks for being with us.

President of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker

I thank-you.

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