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‘We need to learn to be proud of Europe again’

Ex-Luxembourg prime minister aims to become Commission President

Jean-Claude Juncker: “I could never understand the logic of those in Malta who were working hard against Malta’s EU membership.” Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Jean-Claude Juncker: “I could never understand the logic of those in Malta who were working hard against Malta’s EU membership.” Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Jean-Claude Juncker, the 59-year-old former prime minister of Luxembourg, is on a new mission.

After being prime minister of the Grand Duchy for almost 19 years – a record in Europe – he now has a good chance of succeeding Jose Manuel Barroso as President of the European Commission.

His prospects, however, depend on the result of the European Parliament elections later this month as Mr Juncker will only succeed if the European People’s Party – the EPP – manages to remain the largest political force in the Brussels chamber.

The prospects are good but Mr Juncker is not taking anything for granted.

“We will cross the bridge when we arrive,” he told The Sunday Times of Malta during a brief interview while on a campaign visit to Malta this week. Despite serving in senior ministerial posts for over 30 years, Mr Juncker still wants to carry on with a political career.

“I have been labour minister, finance minister and prime minister for a very long time but I’m still not fed up yet and that is why I want to do this,” he said when asked whether he suffers from political fatigue.

“Although I may be fed up with classic traditional politics, I think that the time has come for me to give something back to Europe. I’ve learned so much in the past years that I came to know Europe and its different intricacies inside out. I think that now it’s time to give something back to Europe and help it develop further.”

Mr Juncker – who also led the Eurogroup when Malta joined the eurozone – is clear as to the direction the EU should be moving in.

“We need to learn to be proud of Europe again, for Europe has proven to the world that Europeans are capable of great things when they are united.”

The son of a steel worker, whose parents were “robbed of their youth” due to the occupation of his country by Nazi Germany, Mr Juncker believes that he should serve as a bridge to the crop of future EU leaders.

“Although we have done great things by uniting inside the European Union we tend to forget all our successes. We have to build more on this as we need a stronger Europe for the future.”

His priorities, if elected to the top post in Brussels, will be more fiscal consolidation, more solidarity and boosting the single market for more growth.

Locally, particularly among the top political brass, Mr Juncker is also very well known.

Considered as a close personal friend of former Nationalist prime ministers Eddie Fenech Adami and Lawrence Gonzi, Mr Juncker does not need to prove that he knows Malta very well.

“I was always there for Malta especially when things were quite tough,” he said while recalling the pressure he had to exert on former French president Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to accept Malta’s stance on retaining a special arrangement on VAT during the accession negotiations.

The time has come for me to give something back to Europe

Mentioning the “battles” he had to fight so that Malta could be given a push during its long march to become a member of the EU, the former prime minster recalled that this proved to be harder because “many European leaders of the time could not understand how half of the Maltese population didn’t want to join the EU”.

“I could never understand the logic of those in Malta who were working hard against Malta’s EU membership.

“There was a real sense of confusion among EU leaders at the time as they couldn’t comprehend how a small island-state like Malta did not want to become part of a greater Union who share their sovereignty together for their own common good.”

However, Mr Juncker said that he was now satisfied that it seemed all Maltese were on board.

“I had tried at the time to speak to Alfred Sant and convince him that Malta’s place belongs to the EU and that it did not make sense to throw away a unique opportunity,” he recalled.

“I am now very happy to note that he [Sant] has now come also on board and is seeking to become an MEP,” he said. Moving on to solidarity, particularly in view of the repeated calls by Malta to receive more tangible help from its fellow EU member states to tackle irregular migration, Mr Juncker said that during EU summits he always stood by Malta’s pleas and said that if he becomes the President of the European Commission he will re-launch the debate to make sure that Malta is given the necessary help.

“I know that this may sound like an empty promise as many have said this before.

“I obviously cannot guarantee any miracles as this solidarity depends on the consensus among all the member states.

“However, I truly believe in Malta’s cause and have always spoken in its favour,” Mr Juncker said.

“I can only promise one thing. I will be very Maltese on this issue and will do my best to convince everyone that Malta deserves our tangible solidarity,” he said.

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