Jean-Claude Juncker: The Demons Haven’t Been Banished

Interview, 07/16/2012. Translated from the German by Paul Cohen.


SPIEGEL:Mr. Prime Minister, it has been seven weeks since you stepped down as head of the Euro Group. Do you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and think: I absolutely have to give another interview on the euro crisis?

Juncker:No, I’m not suffering from withdrawal symptoms. I would say that I have a balanced state of mind. My life is less hectic and I’m calmer and more relaxed.

SPIEGEL:For eight years, you were a kind of informal president of the monetary union. When you take stock of your accomplishments during this period, don’t you have to admit that Europe has tended to drift apart rather than become more close-knit?

Juncker:For my generation, the monetary union has always been about forging peace. Today, I notice with a certain sense of regret that far too many Europeans are returning to a regional and national mindset.

SPIEGEL:What do you mean by that?

Juncker:The way some German politicians have lashed out at Greece when the country fell into the crisis has left deep wounds there. I was just as shocked by the banners of protesters in Athens that showed the German chancellor in a Nazi uniform. Sentiments suddenly surfaced that we thought had been finally relegated to the past. The Italian election was also excessively anti-German and thus un-European.

SPIEGEL:You’re exaggerating. No one today seriously doubts peace and friendship in Europe.

Juncker:That’s true. But anyone who believes that the eternal issue of war and peace in Europe has been permanently laid to rest could be making a monumental error. The demons haven’t been banished; they are merely sleeping, as the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo have shown us. I am chilled by the realization of how similar circumstances in Europe in 2013 are to those of 100 years ago.

SPIEGEL:1913 was the year before the outbreak of World War I. Do you seriously believe that there will be armed conflict in Europe?

Juncker:No, but I see obvious parallels with regard to people’s complacency. In 1913, many people believed that they would never again be a war in Europe. The great powers of the Continent were economically so strongly intermeshed that there was the widespread opinion that they could simply no longer afford to engage in military conflicts. Primarily in Western and Northern Europe, there was a complete sense of complacency based on the assumption that peace had been secured forever.

SPIEGEL:The young generation tends to tune out when Brussels politicians lecture them again about the trenches of Verdun.

Juncker:Indeed, we can’t completely rely on the aberrations of history to explain today’s European necessities. Future-related issues are no less pressing. By the middle of this century, Europe will comprise only a good 7 percent of the world’s population. Already today, over 80 percent of economic growth comes from other regions of the globe. A united Europe is our Continent’s only chance to avoid falling off the world’s radar. The heads of government of Germany, France and the United Kingdom also know that their voice is only heard internationally because they speak through the megaphone of the European Union.

SPIEGEL:The only problem is that a firm commitment to Europe and the monetary union doesn’t pay off politically because it demands unpopular reforms. At the height of the euro crisis, you even said: We heads of government all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get reelected when we do it. Does this still hold true?

Juncker:If I were to give a humorous response, I would say today: For a long time, we didn’t know what to do, and we still weren’t reelected.

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