Mr Juncker briefly returned to the limelight last month, as he spoke to Deutsche Welle (DW) about Europe’s coronavirus response. The former President of the European Commission gave his backing to the joint French and German plan to rescue the bloc’s economies with the creation of an EU bond. In an interview from his Luxembourg home, the 65-year-old claimed the €500billion (£447billion) idea was “the right response”, and warned that a failure to agree on a deal would mean “a very serious existential crisis for the EU”.
Mr Juncker, whose five-year term as the Commission’s head came to an end in November last year, was a controversial figure during his time in office.
His position as a leading advocate of deeper EU integration inevitably drew the ire of many eurosceptics, particularly in Britain.
According to unearthed reports, the Luxembourgish politician particularly sparked fury in the UK ahead of the 2016 EU referendum, when he claimed eurosceptics should have visited military cemeteries.
According to a throwback report by The Telegraph, in an address in The Hague four years ago, Mr Juncker said: “Peace is never a sure thing. Anyone who thinks that peace is set in eternity is fundamentally wrong.”
Referring to the conflict in Ukraine, he noted: “And there is war again in Europe.”
He continued: “Europe gains whenever we point out that Europe is a major project for peace.
“Whoever does not believe in Europe, who doubts Europe, whoever despairs of Europe, should visit the military cemeteries in Europe.”
Mr Juncker was undoubtedly referring to the military cemeteries scattered across Europe remembering the fallen soldiers of World War 1 and World War 2.
His comments were seen as being particularly insensitive, given the horrors inflicted on the continent during Nazi Germany’s reign of terror before the Allied liberation in 1945.
Mr Juncker angered Brexit campaigners, too, as former International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox pointed out that Britain – led by Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War 2 – had been integral to the fight against Adolf Hitler’s fascism, resisting calls to surrender and providing a launchpad for the D-Day landings of June 1944.
He said: “The military cemeteries of Europe are testament to the failure of the continent to control extremism in the twentieth century.
“Had Britain not been a free and independent nation, we would have been unable to intervene to protect Europe from the result of its own folly.
“Before we are lectured by the European Commission, we should take a look at the rise of extremism across the continent and ask whether they are helping or hurting.”
In his address, Mr Juncker also pointedly contrasted former Prime Minister David Cameron‘’s hostility to his appointment to his pleas for help with the renegotiation two years later.
Mr Cameron fought a lonely and unsuccessful battle to halt Mr Juncker’s nomination in 2014, arguing the Luxembourg federalist was ill-suited to the task of reforming the bloc.
Mr Juncker is also said to have been particularly upset by reports that surfaced during the contest in British newspapers about the war record of his father, an unwilling conscript in the Wehrmacht during World War 2, whom he referred to in his speech.
Mr Juncker said that there could be no further negotiations with Britain in the event of a Brexit vote.
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He added: “It would be very nice if we could put this topic into the attic of world history as soon as possible because if we had to deal with this issue for years to come then everything would go wrong in Europe.
“Therefore, there must not be any renegotiations with the British, who I like otherwise, in case of a ‘No’.
“Not only because the British Prime Minister voted against me when I wanted to become president of the Commission but also because he was so glad that we helped him to get a grip on his problem, his self-induced problem.”
Mr Juncker also noted he wanted to stay out of the EU referendum campaign because he believed his unpopularity would have rendered interventions counterproductive.
He concluded: “I’ve made up my mind to talk about it repeatedly but without saying anything because it is not useful if the president of the Commission is meddling in the British campaign.
“The European Commission is even less popular in the UK than in other countries, and it is a remarkable achievement that we manage to be unpopular in the UK at all.
“Every word of the president of the Commission or of the Commission about the UK has contradictory effects.”
Published at Thu, 11 Jun 2020 14:46:00 +0000