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In the EU, the Worst Rise to the Top

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As a Luxembourgish citizen who for the first eighteen years of his life has seen one prime minister and one prime minister only, I can tell you that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s tough talk isn’t worth the least bit what the media makes it seem.

Juncker, who was Prime Minister of Luxembourg for 18 years from 1995 to 2013, embodies everything that is wrong with politics as it is: a law-student who never practiced the job, becomes a party secretary in a large centre-right party (the same ideological family as Angela Merkel), gets taken under the wing of the former prime minister, and later commission president Jacques Santer, and ends up serving over 30 years in government. 

Jean-Claude Juncker was and is still unbearably popular in the tiny nation that is Luxembourg. When Luxembourg held a referendum in 2005 on the EU Constitution, Juncker made the campaign all about himself by threatening to step down if he would lose that vote. While that seems a logical political response in the UK, Luxembourgish voters were frightened: this man who has so effectively convinced us that we are only relevant in the world through him, what will we do if he leaves? Over 56% said yes in the end.

Lets also recall for a moment why Juncker stepped down as prime minister of Luxembourg to begin with. In a massive spying scandal, in which the secret service repeatedly and systematically conducted illegal operations, Juncker did not care too much for his immediate responsibility (notably since the secret service reports only to the prime minister).

When confronted with a 140-page report of his wrongdoings and failure to address the situation, Juncker stood up to the opposition by pointing out his great leadership skills. Luxembourg? Who would even know about us if it wasn’t for the mighty Juncker? All while being defensive, Juncker fled the country on many occasions and preferred visiting friends in the international community and proving his importance in the European Council rather than addressing the situation at home.

Needless to say that his socialist coalition partner eventually got sick of it and broke up his flawless career.

There is a narrative, even in the Brexit campaign, that you must have lost an election to become part of the European Commission, naming the current president as an example. But Juncker did not lose the snap elections following his eventual resignation in 2013. Indeed his party overwhelming won over one third of the vote. Yet, the three major opposition parties formed a coalition with a very thin majority, expelling Juncker and his party from power. They eventually got too fed up.

Yet, his appointment as Commission president would have happened no matter what.

After all the scare talk about what happens to the UK if it chooses to leave (of which most has already been proven to be false) did not have any effect on the British voter. With most UK voters barely knowing who Jean-Claude Juncker is, he should realise that his appeal is marginal on the rest of the continent. Political reality overtook his idealism by a large margin, and the same will happen during the negotiations with the new government of the United Kingdom, when Germany wants its Volkswagen and Belgium its Stella Artois to be conveniently on the British market. This time he is not negotiating with an electorate of 300,000 , but with the 5th largest economy in the world.

Juncker is the master of pretended wisdom. He wants us to equate his name with Jean Monnet or Robert Schuman; he wants the old European Union above anything else and he thinks that the way to reach this is the same tough talk he practiced in Luxembourg.

Reality will prove him wrong.

Let us assert nonetheless that Juncker’s resignation as EU commission president, as it has been asked by the Czech foreign minister, would not remotely affect the fundemenal problem posed by the centralisation of power in the European Union. Power is turning men into worse people less than it is attracting bad people to begin with.“The unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful” are Friedrich Hayek’s words in his 10th chapter “Why The Worst Get On Top” in his book The Road to Serfdom. What better words to depict the charade of retired national politicians catapulted to EU top jobs.

If anything, Jean-Claude Juncker is not the disease, he is the symptom.

The disease is power.


Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz is a political commentator from Luxembourg. His works have been published in The Times of London, the Washington Examiner, Newsweek, Die Welt, and Le Monde.

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