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Juncker sparks British outrage after English-language jab

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker angered many Britons on social media when he took a jab at the United Kingdom during his state of the union address in Florence, saying the English language was losing its importance in Europe.

“I am hesitating between English and French,” Juncker said in his opening statements, which were received by applause by those in attendance. “But I made my choice. I will express myself in French because slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe.”

Juncker’s comment comes as Brexit tensions have simmered in recent weeks marked by a war of words in which UK Prime Minister Theresa May promised Juncker she’ll be a “bloody difficult woman”.

May has also accused EU leaders of wanting to impact the result of the UK’s June 8 general election.

And earlier this week, an official dinner between May and Juncker was dubbed “disastrous” by German press with Juncker admitting to feeling worried about the state and tone of looming talks.

Juncker used his address to tell MEPs and EU officials the 27-member bloc needs to recognise and address its weaknesses, as a way to ward off the rise of populist political parties.

“We need to see Europe’s real weaknesses which can partly explain the outcome of the referendum in the UK,” Juncker said. “We need to see the other weaknesses, the objective ones, the ones we never look at closely because we are scared of the truth that will settle in our villages.”

Juncker was joined by EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani who said the EU must not attack the rise of populism, but rather, should learn why they are attracting voters.

“I don’t think we should attack the populist parties, the issue is to understand why so many people vote for them,” Tajani said. “Why they choose those parties. The only answer we can give to these citizens is that we have to do all we can to solve their problems.”

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