Nick Timothy is Director of the New Schools Network and a former Chief of Staff to Theresa May.
Despite disagreeing with Conservatives who want Britain to remain inside the EU, I have signed up to Ronald Reagan’s (Anglicised) Eleventh Commandment: “thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Conservative.” But my restraint applies only to British Conservatives. It does not extend to conservatives from other jurisdictions, and in particular it does not apply to Jean-Claude Juncker, the supposedly conservative President of the European Commission.
President Juncker is the archetypical product of European politics. His disdain for member states, in particular the British, is matched only by his disrespect for democracy. His boasting about his dishonesty and secrecy in government is as open as his commitment to a federal Europe. The questions about his personal conduct are serious, but not quite as serious as the allegations about his professional conduct during his long tenure in public office. Jean-Claude Juncker is such a comic-strip Euro-villain that if he didn’t exist, the Daily Mail would have to invent him.
The Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013, he was forced to resign following a spying scandal, in which the country’s intelligence service conducted illegal operations and bugged politicians. A parliamentary inquiry found that Juncker, “as head of the intelligence service, not only had no control over his service but also too often omitted to inform the parliamentary committee or the judiciary of its irregularities, aberrations and illegalities.” His defence was that he was too busy and “the intelligence service was not my top priority.” So the man who could not cope with his responsibilities while governing a country the size of Glasgow now finds himself at the head of a political union of more than 508 million people.
As Luxembourg’s Finance Minister as well as Prime Minister, he was responsible for turning the grand duchy into a tax haven for firms including Amazon, Ikea, GlaxoSmithKline, Disney and Burberry. Yet since his promotion to the continental stage, he has had the chutzpah to argue that the EU needs to “put some morality, some ethics, into the European tax landscape.”
Last Thursday, a Dutch think tank was treated to a prime example of the petulance, egomania, delusion, contempt for accountability and loathing for democracy that appear to be vital attributes on the CVs of top Eurocrats like Juncker. Perhaps forgetting the hundreds of thousands of British soldiers buried beneath European soil who gave their lives for continental democracy, he tactlessly declared: “whoever does not believe in Europe, whoever doubts Europe, whoever despairs of Europe, should visit the war cemeteries in Europe.” He explained that one of his reasons for opposing “any renegotiations with the British” in the event of a vote to leave the EU was “because the British Prime Minister voted against me when I wanted to be President of the Commission.” And as if he had not made plain his contempt for the democratic process, he finished off by saying: “it would be very nice if we could put this topic into the attic of world history as soon as possible.”
This kind of disdain for the EU’s member states is typical of the man. In a recent interview with Bild, he said that “the European refugee policy that [Angela Merkel] and I stand for” – as though the two of them can dictate what should be the immigration policy for an entire continent – “will be successful.” Referring to the fateful announcement by the German government that led to Europe being overwhelmed with migrants – which caused Wolfgang Schauble to compare Merkel to the “careless skier” who triggers an avalanche – Juncker said “it is a sign of political strength to say ‘we will accomplish this.” Dismissing the concerns of millions of voters about its impact on immigration and border control, he said: “everything else means giving up in the face of populists.” “Populist” is, of course, the word Eurocrats such as Juncker like to use to describe democrats.
In particular, Juncker seems to reserve most of his contempt for Britain. In 2014, before his appointment as President of the Commission was confirmed, and in response to British concerns about his candidacy, Juncker told a private meeting of MEPs: “it is wrong if we give in to the British here. I will not be forced to get on my knees before the British.” In 2007, on the eve of the Lisbon Treaty, he told the Belgian press: “Britain is different. Of course there will be transfers of sovereignty. But would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?”
And that is the remarkable thing about Juncker: he is completely honest about his belief in the need to be dishonest. He once said: “when it becomes serious, you have to lie.” In 2011, he said Europe’s economic policy should be decided behind closed doors: “monetary policy,” he told a press conference, “is a serious issue. We should discuss this in secret, in the Eurogroup. I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic, but I want to be serious.” He confessed he “often had to lie” to protect the euro, and proudly pronounced: “I am for secret, dark debates.” Going back to his role in first establishing the euro, he explained: “we decide on something, leave it lying around and wait and see what happens. If no one kicks up a fuss, because most people don’t understand what has been decided, we continue step by step until there is no turning back.” No wonder even the continental press dubbed him “the master of lies”.
The purpose that drives Juncker’s deceit is, to coin a phrase, “ever closer union”. Incredibly, he believes not only that Schengen and the euro have “provided us with a high degree of wealth, freedom and security” but also that “many people in the world are jealous of that”. And he is not prepared to let democracy get in the way of his dream of a federal Europe. When the French put the European Constitution to a referendum in 2005, he said: “if it’s a Yes, we will say ‘on we go’, and if it’s a No we will say ‘we continue’”. And so it proved: when the French voted ‘No’, the Constitution was merely rebranded as the Lisbon Treaty, and the process of political integration continued. When the Irish voted against Lisbon in their referendum, Juncker said: “there’s no Plan B, the Lisbon Treaty was Plan B” – and the Irish were made to vote again.
Now, Juncker proposes a redistributive EU welfare system, a “common European army” to “convey a clear message to Russia”, further EU expansion to new countries in the east, and a range of other policies including “an efficient joint border and coastal protection”, “more joint financial means in order to care for refugees” and “a European minister of finance who will efficiently administer the European funds and allocate them to where they are most needed.” We cannot say we haven’t been warned.
A heavy drinker and chain smoker, one of Juncker’s lesser ambitions for the future is reportedly to change the European Commission’s rules so he can smoke his way through meetings in the Berlaymont building in Brussels. Somehow, this petty act of hypocrisy seems to sum up Juncker’s political career to date. If the purpose of the President of the European Commission is to act as a figurehead who symbolises all one needs to know about the European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker was certainly an inspired appointment.