Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has accused EU leaders of tarnishing the EU image in their countries, blaming them for the negative results in EU referenda.
Juncker, who would be seen as a prime candidate for the post of ‘Mr. Europe’ if the Lisbon Treaty were to be enforced, made a visionary analysis of the situation following the failed Irish referendum at a conference organised by the Université Libre de Bruxelles on 18 June.
Mixing humour with harsh assessments, Juncker thanked Professor Mario Telo, who introduced him as “probably the best candidate” for the EU top job after his “necrological presentation”.
Europe – the enemy
“Politicians give the impression that Europe is being built against their will. Governments always try to explain in their countries that they have won against Europe,” Juncker said, referring to the newspaper articles he reads in several languages following the EU Councils. He said this aggressive language is better suited to football matches and insisted such reports are in fact very far away from the reality.
“Sometimes I feel like I haven’t been in the meeting room. And I always wish to write my own article,” he added humorously.
Respecting the Irish
Juncker is strongly in favour of the need to respect the decision of the Irish and called for the other countries not to treat Ireland in a condescending manner. At the same time he said the Irish vote represented “deep ignorance of Europe and therefore the Irish have made a heavy and tragic mistake”.
“Let’s take the Irish vote seriously. I am amazed that the grand French press, the press in Belgium, in the Netherlands, in Germany, is dumping insults on Ireland, while following the French ‘no’ we declared the Constitution dead. Why? There are no big and small democracies, and there is no Europe without Ireland. If the Belgian people were offered […] a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, why do you think they would have necessarily said ‘yes’?,” Juncker asked.
“The Irish said ‘no’. Is this a catastrophe? Yes. Are we in crisis? Yes. Will we get out of this crisis soon? Maybe. You will ask me how to get out, a question which I will not be able to answer at the European Council tomorrow. Why did you expect I would be able to answer it today?,” said Juncker.
Asked by EURACTIV why European leaders claimed there was no ‘plan B’ ahead of the Irish referendum, despite the fact that there are now far too many conflicting plans to overcome the crisis, Juncker admitted that in fact there is no plan B.
“You cannot convince 27 parliaments and people to say ‘yes’ to a text, if you say you have a better one in your pocket, because they will immediately ask to see it. Besides, when you don’t have it, better say there is no such plan. In fact the Lisbon Treaty was the Plan B of the project for a European Constitution. If we still change the text, it will be a very small B,” said Juncker amid laughs from the audience.
Lack of pride
Juncker explained that the real problems of Europe are not issues like the number of commissioners but the fact that “Europe is not sufficiently proud of what it does”. He went on to enumerate the successes of Europe.
“We are like the Belgians, who are not proud of their country – they are wrong by the way, not being proud of this small kingdom, the neighbour of the Grand Duchy,” Juncker said, amid laughs from the mainly Belgian audience. “Like the Belgian, the European doesn’t like what he does, no matter if what he does is admired by the entire world”.
Juncker outlined the successes of Europe, and especially its “capacity to reconcile history with geography,” also citing its reunification, the big European decisions on climate change and the euro. He added that without its high rate against the dollar the price of fuel in EU countries would be 30 to 50% higher, or without which events like the Irish referendum would enormously affect the currencies of countries concerned.
“But are we proud of it? No, and the reason is that no government in particular can claim the merits from these achievements. Since governments like to attract the public’s attention only on the own achievements and not on common achievements, nobody speaks about common achievements,” said Juncker.
The real challenges
The Prime Minister of Luxembourg expressed his views on the real challenges facing Europe, related in his words to alarming demographic trends and migration pressures and the decline in Europe’s economic weight over the decades to come, as well as an incapacity to address global problems.
“We have to ask the right questions. In times when Europe is getting smaller in demographic and economic terms, is this the right time to re-divide, to re-nationalise? I don’t stand for the United Nations of Europe, because I don’t like the term, but I’m against the Disunited Nations of Europe. If you look at the world’s problems, would you think it needs less Europe or more Europe? The question is not to ask whether Ireland will call a second referendum. The question is about asking the right question,” said Juncker amid applause.
The Irish 'no' vote on the Lisbon Treaty has once again thrown the Union into a state of confusion, with leaders voicing contradictory and sometimes strange ideas. The most obvious contradiction is between those who consider the treaty to be dead - with Czech leaders the most vocal in this respect (EURACTIV 16/06/08) - and mainstream politicians, who would prefer ratification to continue in the remaining eight countries as planned in the hope that a solution will be also found for Ireland.
With the Slovenian Presidency drawing to a close, it will now be mainly in the hands of the incoming French Presidency to lead the search for a way out. Ironically, it was France that threw the EU into a similar state of chaos when its own citizens rejected the now-defunct Constitution in 2005.
The intention of the French appears to be to ensure that ratification continues. In the meantime, a re-run of the referendum could take place, as happened after the Irish first rejected the EU's Nice Treaty in 2001.
Other, more original solutions could emerge, like introducing new opt-outs to keep the Irish electorate happy, or changing key provisions of the Treaty, like the number of commissioners. Irish voters had expressed concern over the possible loss of their commissioner if the EU executive body were to be slimmed down according to the Lisbon Treaty. Keeping the 'one commissioner per country' principle was aired as a possible compromise solution.
- Deutsche Welle:Germany criticised for 'arrogant' reaction to Irish vote