Brendan O’Neill

Who does Jean-Claude Juncker think he is?

Who does Jean-Claude Juncker think he is?
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Jean-Claude Juncker: what a nasty piece of work. There aren’t many politicians I’d say that about. Even most of those I disagree with strike me as being pretty decent people. Theresa May might be a petty authoritarian, but she isn’t sinister. Jeremy Corbyn is wrong about everything, and stuck politically and sartorially in 1983, but he seems a nice enough guy. But Juncker — it is still rare that such a noxious character, such a scheming operator, such an arrogant arse, such a jumped-up, poundshop Machiavelli, darkens the corridors of politics. He’s the worst.

All of Juncker’s awful traits were on display at the weekend, in the spat over his dinner with May last week. Details about the dinner were leaked to the German newspaper FAZ by Juncker’s minions in the European Commission. Proof, if any were needed, that only the most tragic, blinkered EU-loving naif would trust the EC, that distant oligarchy, that byzantine bureaucratic machine, making laws we Euro-plebs must live by even though none of us voted for these people. In leaking about the dinner in order to make Juncker look like a god-king and May like a bumbling fool, the EC has signalled its untrustworthiness, and its intention to make the Brexit negotiations as difficult as possible.

If the lesson you have taken from the leaks is that May is misguided, you weren’t paying attention. Even these leaks designed to make Juncker look good actually reveal what an infinite vacuum of principle and decency he is. Whether he was whipping out a massive pile of paper to show how complex the EU entry deal with Croatia is — like a latter-day Cecil Rhodes saying, ‘This is what nations must do to please me’ — or telling May that Brexit ‘cannot be a success’, Juncker comes off as immovable and autocratic, far more interested in maintaining his grey grip on the levers of EU power than respecting the will of 17.4m pesky Britons.

Worst of all was the revelation that right after dinner he phoned Angela Merkel to fill her in. He told her May is ‘deluding herself’ and ‘living in another galaxy’. It’s not surprising May seems so alien, so otherworldly to Juncker: after all, she was at the dinner effectively to say, ‘The people voted for Brexit and we will give it to them’, and to the likes of Juncker, such an attachment to democracy seems quaint and perverted. Like a telltale school pupil, the playground grass everyone loathes, Juncker was filling in his headmistress Merkel about May’s naughtiness even before he’d got back to his hotel. (Or is he the headmaster and Merkel the swottish pupil? It’s hard to tell.)

That Juncker prefers duplicity to diplomacy, that he can arrogantly insist the British people’s democratic choice ‘cannot be a success’, should not come as a surprise. This is a man with an acute allergy to the whole idea of democracy. ‘I’m ready to be insulted as being insufficiently democratic… I am for [having] secret, dark debates’, he once said. He is contemptible of the idea that ordinary people should have a major say in politics. On the 2005 French referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, he said: ‘If it’s a Yes, we will say “on we go”. If it’s a No, we will say “we continue”.’ It was a No. More than 15m people, 55 percent of the French electorate, rejected Lisbon. And, as promised, Juncker said ‘we continue’ — he enforced the treaty anyway under the guise of the EU Constitution.

Juncker is a fan of lying, too. Yes, the EU Constitution would lead to ‘transfers of sovereignty’ from individual nations to the EU, ‘but would I be intelligent to draw the attention of public opinion to this fact?’, he once asked. Sometimes EU deal-making must be protected from public scrutiny, he said. ‘When it becomes serious, you have to lie.’ This is who, or rather what, we’re dealing with: a man and commission that think nothing of swatting aside mass democratic votes, who prefer the shadows of committee rooms to the light of democratic debate, and who will lie to get their way. As I say, if it’s May’s naivety you’re worried about, you need to have a word with yourself: the other side is immeasurably worse.

Juncker’s nastiness is only a physical manifestation of Brussels itself. Power-hungry, deceitful, dismissive of democracy: the nature of the EU is horribly personified in Juncker. What’s truly alarming is not that Juncker behaves like this — he always has — but that so many in the British commentariat are lapping up his leaks and laughing along with him at the stupidity of May and by extension of those who chose Brexit. It is a testament to the decadence of the media class, to their distance from everyday opinion, that they prefer the underhand antics of Brexit-loathing Juncker over May’s effort to represent the will of the majority. They hope Juncker will punish British voters for daring to hold a different opinion to theirs.

And now some in the media are saying: ‘See how hard these negotiations are going to be for Britain? Are you still glad you voted Brexit?’ Yes. Yes, yes, yes. Never gladder. The meanness and ruthlessness and cynicism of Juncker and his team right now remind us precisely why we voted to leave the EU: because it is an opaque enemy of democracy that has no place in a decent, progressive 21st-century Europe.