Juncker never forgave Cameron
Nicholas Karides, 26 June 2016
Two years ago, at the Clairefontaine restaurant in Luxembourg on the evening of 31 May 2014, I struck a conversation with Jean Luis Schiltz, a former Minister of Defence of Luxembourg under Jean Claude Juncker's premiership. A flamboyant lawyer and a very sharp mind, Schiltz had also served as leader of the Luxembourg Christian Social People's Party and was, crucially, a very close friend of Juncker's and well versed in the intricacies of European affairs.
In talking about the state of the European Union, Schiltz very confidently advocated that the time had come for the UK to leave the European Union. If the Union wanted to move forward, he said, "The unthinkable must become thinkable". Juncker had not yet secured the Commission presidency though Schiltz was quick to explain that he would be great for the job.
Juncker was a committed federalist and, Schiltz disclosed, had been pivotal in forging the Helmut Kohl - Francois Mitterand relationship that drove European integration. He was always cautious of the British, was very close to Paris and had been personally very close to Kohl, something, Schiltz added, Chancellor Angela Merkel would always be wary of.
Two years later, the day after Brexit and David Cameron’s resignation and even though Chancellor Merkel attempted to dampen pressure to force Britain to trigger the Article 50 escape-clause saying that rushing into an exit was unwarranted, Jean Claude Juncker insisted that Britain’s severance from the EU is “not an amicable divorce” and the government should begin negotiating exit terms “immediately” rather than waiting for Cameron to leave office.
We may have forgotten, though Juncker will certainly not have, that David Cameron had clumsily tried to block his Commission presidency candidacy in 2014. In a meeting with Merkel shortly before the June 2014 European Council to decide on the new Commission President, Cameron was widely reported to have told Merkel that the appointment of Juncker would mark a "worrying moment for Europe and for Britain". Cameron lost that European Council vote by 26-2. Merkel supported Juncker though not wholeheartedly. Only Hungary supported Cameron against him. Juncker was president.
As we dwell on the “What have they done?” aspect of Brexit and the immediate aftershocks, including it seems even the remote ‘reversibility" of the decision, we must not forget that there are many in the European Union who are very happy with this development. This has been a long time coming.
Correspondingly, while we debate how security, economic interests, governments and the media affect the global order, we should also glance at the Junckers and Camerons and especially the Johnsons and Farages of this world and be reminded of how the quality of political leaders and by extension the chemistry between these personalities define their agendas, and inevitably, our lives.