EU Parliament

GEOFFREY LEVY: Still sneering at Britain: Jean-Claude Juncker the boozy bully who sums up all that’s rotten about the EU

Everything that is wrong with the EU, the reasons why a majority of British voters plumped for Brexit, could, I suspect, be symbolised by one man this week: Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.

‘Why are you here?’ this big-talking little man taunted British MEP Nigel Farage in the European Parliament this week. The President was loving it, like a stand-up comedian working a compliant audience.

Where but in the EU could a small-time politician with no particular talents, from a country the size of Surrey that thrives on unpaid taxes diverted from its fellow member states, have been given the presidency of a commission which — operating in total secrecy — oversees 28 countries (soon to be 27) of 500 million people?

Like some parody of a Mafia don, Juncker darkly warned Britain that it would face 'consequences' for leaving, writes GEOFFREY LEVY

President of the European Commission,  Juncker shares a glass of wine with German leader Chancellor Angela Merkel 

Juncker gets booed in European Parliament before voted in

Like some parody of a Mafia don, Juncker darkly warned Britain that it would face ‘consequences’ for leaving.

The first act of the man who likes to play pinball machines and is said to take his first malt whisky with breakfast, has been to impose a ‘presidential ban’ on EU officials conducting informal talks with Britain.

But then Juncker, known for his rumpled suits and alcohol-laced breath, is nothing if not a small-town bully-boy politician. He’s used to throwing his weight around in Luxembourg, a state built on tax avoidance for which he was largely responsible as prime minister for 18 years — 15 of which he was finance minister.

Largely as a result of Juncker’s enthusiasm for tax avoidance deals, Luxembourg’s citizens are by far the wealthiest in Europe, with a gross domestic product per capita twice that of Germany and three times that of Britain.

Luxembourg, for the record, gives succour to secretive finance houses, tax-dodging tycoons and corrupt Third World dictators.

Juncker used to boast in speeches how he was involved in ‘tough negotiations’ that lured the giant American firm Amazon to Luxembourg — this is of course the same Amazon whose billions of pounds in trade in the UK provide scant tax receipts to our Exchequer, money which, after all, could help pay for our hospitals and schools.

Juncker kisses the forehead of European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici at the start of a special meeting of the European Commission on Brexit

 In 2012, the Chancellor George Osborne was pictured high fiving the commissioner before a meeting of finance ministers 

Tax-avoiding Apple is another beneficiary — so that if, for example, you download music on iTunes you are dealing with a subsidiary in Luxembourg. It should be noted that at the time Juncker took office, less than two years ago, the ineffectual Commission over which he now presides was meant to be investigating the most egregious cases of Luxembourg’s corporate tax deals. What was the result of that, we are entitled to wonder?

State documents from Luxembourg revealed by a whistleblower from a firm of accountants showed how officials under Juncker, when he was PM, fostered a corrosive culture of corporate tax avoidance. Incredibly, this involved more than 300 of the world’s biggest companies including — in addition to Amazon and Apple — Disney, Dyson, Microsoft and PepsiCo.

No wonder his appointment as the effective head of the EU caused an outcry, especially from David Cameron. As one prominent German MEP declared at the time: ‘When it comes to Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU battle against tax dodging, it would seem the fox has been enlisted to guard the henhouse.’

While Juncker, 61, seems to have expended much energy helping major corporations save millions of pounds, he is not averse to spending millions himself — as long as it is public money, of course.

As Luxembourg’s PM, he is said to have lavished huge sums flying government delegations around on luxuriously appointed private jets that were three-quarters empty. On one such jaunt to Lisbon, it was kept waiting at the airport for 24 hours at a cost of 40,000 euros.

 David Cameron chats to Juncker as they arrive for an EU summit after Britain voted for Brexit 

Jean-Claude Juncker in ANOTHER awkward high five with Cameron

 For all that, it is being in charge that Jean-Claude Juncker adores most. And with his job as President of the Commission he has hit the jackpot — despite controversial issues in his personal life.

He went to boarding school in Belgium and university in Alsace, where he met his future wife, Christiane Frising. Her father was one of Hitler’s so-called Propaganda Commissars, and was among those responsible for the ‘Germanification’ of Luxembourg. He helped enforce the Nuremberg Laws which stripped Jews of their rights, and were a forerunner to the Holocaust.

Of course, no one would hold Juncker accountable for the sins of his father-in-law, which came to light in the German media, yet he has never spoken about this dark chapter in his family’s past, not even to condemn it.

As for his drinking — which has afforded him a bitter-sweet relationship with that other renowned boozer Nigel Farage — Juncker is said to have a particular weakness for Glenfarclas malt whisky (which costs up to £130), bottles of which are said to be kept in the fridge behind his Commissioner’s desk.

 The young Jean-Claude Juncker was prime minister of Luxembourg but was eventually driven from office in a spy scandal

Ben Fayot, a former Labour MEP, has recalled Juncker being someone who ‘likes a drink’, adding: ‘It affected him sometimes, for instance when he was in a meeting and he was not as present as he should have been.’

Juncker denies he has a problem with alcohol, but one mysterious episode occurred in 1989 when he was almost killed in a car accident.

He was in a coma for two weeks. It is something he still ‘doesn’t like talking about’, but his left leg was sufficiently damaged to stop him playing football.

Since then he has become, as he admits, ‘perversely fanatical about pinball’.

As well as pinball, he is fanatical about a grandiose idea that gave birth to his greatest and most abiding white elephant back home in Luxembourg. It is a futuristic new city 15 miles south of the capital built around the old steelworks where his father used to work, and barely a mile from where Juncker lived as a boy.

Called Belval and the size of 120 football pitches, it is being transformed into a vast scientific and cultural centre, served by not one but two railway stations. Work has gone on for a dozen years, and it’s not finished.

And you won’t be surprised to learn that in this richest of small nations, the area has received generous grants from the EU.

Whether it will ever justify the massive investment is open to debate. Many shops, offices and apartments remain empty, some roads and bridges lead nowhere and completion is a dream — one as unrealistic as the transfer of more and more national powers to an ever more powerful EU.

Juncker holds a joint news conference with European Council President Donald Tusk after the European Summit in Brussels in June

To Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg is the perfect European state, a financial bolthole that has exploited its EU status to become fabulously rich at the expense of supposed friends.

How many untaxed billions of British money lie in its secret vaults, no one can say. Secretly, through special tax deals, Luxembourg shares in worldwide economic success without doing anything to earn it.

And Juncker is the man largely responsible for it.

This, then, is the posturing martinet hectoring Britain and threatening that we won’t be ‘sitting at the table any more’.

Ironically, if post-Brexit British firms continue to be successful and deposit profits in Luxembourg, this ultimate symbol of arrogant, out-of-touch Eurocrats will surely be delighted.

EU’s Juncker survives no confidence vote in EU parliament

Leave a Reply

Help put the World to rights and leave a Comment

Notify of
Powered by: Wordpress
%d bloggers like this: