Jean-Claude Juncker will not seek a second term as European Commission president, once his first mandate ends in 2019.
The former prime minister of Luxembourg confirmed he would quit in an interview with German public radio station Deutschlandfunk, which will be broadcast tomorrow (12 February).
Juncker said he had wanted to give people hope in Europe again. But the head of the EU executive said he was now too busy with Brexit, which he called a “continental tragedy”.
He told Deutschlandfunk he feared that Brexit will drive the remaining 27 EU countries against each other “without much effort”.
“The other 27 don’t know it yet but the British know very well how they’ll manage it. You promise country A one thing, country B one thing and country C another and at the end there’s no European front left,” Juncker said, according to a transcript of the interview.
EU member states are becoming even more divided over opinions that “are not necessarily compatible,” he said, referencing Hungary and Poland.
“Do the Hungarians or the Poles want exactly the same thing as the Germans or the French? I have huge doubts. You have to create a fundamental consensus again. That’s a job for the next two or three years.
“While we’re negotiating with the British, we have to agree on the definitive visions for this continent if we want to avoid an apocalyptic mood,” Juncker said.
He also insisted that US President Donald Trump’s protectionist trade policy could create “big opportunities” for the EU to agree new trade deals with countries outside the bloc.
“And we actually should not allow the British to act now already like they can sign their own trade agreements with other countries, because they are not allowed to. As long as the UK is a member of the European Union, its foreign trade policy is a competence of the European Union – and therefore the Commission.”
UK Prime Minister Theresa May was in Washington last month laying the groundwork for a new, post-Brexit trade agreement with the US, and has also courted other countries for potential deals.
The European Commission president is elected by the European Parliament. Juncker was the first leader of the executive to be elected under the new “Spitzenkandidat” system, which allowed every political group represented in the European Parliament to put forward a candidate for the post.
He took office as Commission president in 2014 after defeating former European Parliament President Martin Schulz, a socialist, who is now running to unseat German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a 24 September election.
Juncker is a member of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) and previously served as Luxembourg’s prime minister from 1995 until 2013.
The EPP has newfound political dominance in Brussels since Schulz’s departure as Parliament president last month. Newly elected European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and European Council President Donald Tusk are also from the political group, which spurred speculation that other parties could push for Tusk to be ousted.