By Michel Anderlini
”We politicians, we know very well what to do [to resolve the crisis]. But what we do not know is how to be re-elected if we do try to resolve the crisis”, used to say the farseeing Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxemburg – a country besides which I grew up. As Juncker stepped down on Wednesday 10 July following a spy scandal in his home country (Luxemburg´s secret service was accused of a series of misconduct including bugging of citizens, politicians, bribes and illegal purchases of cars for private use) it is high time to track back the amazing career or personality of a “dinosaur of the EU” – somebody has majorly influenced the path of European construction.
An early passion for the EU
Son of a steelman, Jean-Claude Juncker have been member of Luxemburg’s government for the last 30 years, and served as Prime Minister for 18. His engagement for the EU draws back to 1991 when he got deeply involved in the preparations of the Maastricht Treaty (which he wrote partly himself) giving birth to the European Union and paving the way for the EU’s single currency, the euro.
Convinced that the EU could not take further steps without strong ties between France and Germany he managed to settle disputes between Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac concerning the Stability and Growth Pact, as he himself endlessly repeated the need for fiscal monitoring and surveillance between EU member states in order to assure the stability of the single currency.
Juncker will be remember by many as the Chair of the Eurogroup (2004-2013) an intergovernmental and de-facto committee bringing together the finance ministers of the 17 Eurozone countries. He always recalled the sleepless and nerve-wrecking nights negotiating bail-outs, debt reductions and unified oversight of EU banks. Convinced European, he confessed in January 2013 “During the crisis years, I learned to love more Europe. I did everything to keep Greece in the euro zone and I have for this country great admiration and great love. I also admire the courage of Portugal and Ireland and I would like the two countries are rewarded for their efforts. ”
Federalism, Pragmatism and Social Dimension
Juncker’s philosophy consisted of seeing the European construction as a progressive path leading to a federation of European states. Therefore, according to him, EU politicians needed to have convictions – only an open, clear exchange of beliefs between EU leaders could move Europe forward. He declared at this matter: “For me, Europe is a mix of hands-on action and strong, almost fervent convictions”.
However, convictions could never overshadow realism, underlined Juncker at several occasions. Europe wouldn’t be built in one day, but as a result of small, gradual steps coming out of difficult negotiations between diverging opinions. He also uttered: ”But strong convictions do not bring anything when you neglect pragmatism, when you cannot accomplish something tangible”.
Lastly, the probably most admirable dimension of Juncker’s personality is his boundless commitment to the social dimension of the European construction. Already in 1997 Juncker pushed the EU into adopting the Luxemburg Process which encourages EU member states to draw up and peer-review national employment plans and policies in order to enhance cooperation in social matters. In 2000 he invested himself into founding the Lisbon Strategy – a progressive agenda aiming at tackling unemployment, creating growth and reviewing the European social model so that to transform the EU into “the most competitive and dynamic economy in the world”.
Juncker was indeed an exemplary politician that believed in federalism and a social dimension of the economy – far from the liberal model that made his country the “cradle of investment banks”. Will his engagement for the EU make him consider the President of the European Commission position in 2014?
Michel Anderlini is a student of International Affairs at Malmö University, Sweden.