Jean-Claude Juncker profile: Europe’s grumpy elder statesman is an expert habitué of the backroom deal

 

Brussels

He has been dubbed the most dangerous man in Europe by one tabloid, but during an interview with The Independent on a bumpy ride in his campaign bus last month, the only peril came from Jean-Claude Juncker’s scalding hot coffee careering across the table towards one of his aides

No such problems for the 59-year-old’s ashtray, which had been fixed to the table with sticky tape, so Mr Juncker could happily puff away while discussing eurozone integration, clouds of smoke filling a bus decorated with his frowning face.

These are the old-school ways that his detractors never tire of mentioning: chain-smoking and the fondness for a spot of cognac; his lack of energy and apparent exasperation at having to interact with people; a dogged insistence that the European Union must move closer together.

A few months ago, the suggestion that the grumpy elder statesman of European politics might actually end up with the top job was greeted with incredulity in some corners. Yesterday, only Britain and Hungary opposed his nomination, marking an astonishing turnaround for the Luxembourger.

“This is happening in a fit of absence of mind,” said one British diplomat ahead of the European Council summit. The diplomat had a point: many EU leaders appear to have backed themselves into a corner by supporting a controversial new process which heralded the rehabilitation of Mr Juncker.

For the first time this year, political groups in the European Parliament put forward candidates to campaign for the position of Commission President. The group that won the most seats in the assembly would then recommend its candidate for approval by the 28 heads of state, thus giving the process a sheen of democracy, whereas before it took place behind closed doors.

Not everyone was convinced by the idea of removing the neutrality of the top job or handing so much power to the Parliament: British diplomats were openly scathing, and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was also sceptical. But in many countries the media ran with the idea and covered the debates between the candidates, so when Mr Juncker’s European People’s Party won the most seats at end of May, leaders including Ms Merkel were under pressure to go along with the process.

This has resulted in a rather bizarre situation where few EU diplomats are willing to give a ringing endorsement of the man they are nominating. “Mr Juncker is a very experienced European politician,” was the best one official could come up with.

But Mr Juncker does have his strengths: just ask the Luxembourgers who kept re-electing him. When he finally stood down last year after a complicated spying scandal, he had spent 18 years in power, making him one of the longest-serving democratically elected leaders in the world.

His popularity was largely down to economic policies which left Luxembourgers the richest citizens of the EU. That those policies included making the tiny landlocked nation very attractive to foreign businesses wanting to stash away their cash was not lost on his rivals for the Commission presidency, who accused him of presiding over a tax haven.

He also knows EU politics inside out, serving as head of the group of eurozone finance ministers from 2005 to 2013. While he may scowl his way through debates and press conferences, he has a certain charm and wry humour in person, and that helped him in the arduous back-room negotiations which helped drag the currency union back from the brink of a break-up.

While these secretive dealings can alienate voters, the leaders who campaigned against him may be banking on some of that diplomatic skill in future.

“Juncker is a very rational, calm and reasonable person, and Hungary will be able to find common ground with him,” said the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orban. “In politics a degree of courtesy is necessary, otherwise relationships turn sour; most EU leaders have this courtesy.”

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker