NATO summit exposes Juncker health problems

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker arrives for the second day of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, 12 July 2018. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

European leaders stepped in to help European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker walk on Wednesday (11 July), as he was seen stumbling and losing his balance ahead of the NATO summit gala dinner.

President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman and Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko held Juncker, who obviously needed help, up during a show before the dinner.

Later, the prime ministers of Macedonia and Portugal, Zoran Zaev and António Costa, were seen helping the Luxemburger descend a small flight of stairs. The, when Juncker was speaking to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, he lost his balance and bumped into Poroshenko.

The Commission President was also pictured on the same night in a wheelchair.

Juncker has previously blamed the unsteadiness on sciatica, which can cause numbness or weakness of the legs.

Following the event, Rutte said: “He doesn’t have a serious health problem as far as I am aware of but he does have a back problem for some time.”

He added: “It is a problem in a sense that he sometimes has these pain attacks.”

Costa said yesterday that Juncker had complained of back pain.

The Commission’s spokespersons office declined to comment due to privacy concerns.

Juncker is only 63 years old. He has said that he will not run for a second term as Commission president but the obvious question now is whether he is he able to complete his term, which ends in autumn 2019.

Juncker’s next big assignment is a visit to the White House on 25 July, in an attempt to prevent a cataclysmic trade war. Yesterday, US President Donald Trump threatened the European Union with taxes on its car exports to the US if the bloc fails to play fair on trade.

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During the midday press briefing on Friday (13 July), journalists inquired about President Juncker’s health condition. Questions especially revolved around the kind of medication he was or still is under.

Commission’s spokesperson Margaritis Schinas assured that Juncker “is taking medication that is prescribed for this sort of sciatica issue”, remaining silent about whether it is standard prescription such as paracetamol or high-level painkillers.

As journalists reminded Schinas, strong painkillers can affect behaviour and even have similar effect to that of alcohol. Worries were expressed concerning Juncker’s ability to fulfil his duties of Commission President until the end of his mandate.

“I can confirm that the President is very well and following his program fully”, added Schinas, before reminding Juncker’s full and unchanged schedule. Starting Sunday night, he will be in Beijing to attend the EU-China summit, which will take place on Monday (16 June) with his counterpart Donald Tusk.  Then he will leave China for Japan before returning to Europe at the end of the week, where he will be in Madrid. And he will not be accompanied by a doctor.

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