Speaking exclusively to Euronews from the headquarters of the European Commission, outgoing President Jean-Claude Juncker said that from the very beginning, Britons were only “part-time Europeans” and were never fully in the union.
“The British were told for more than 40 years that they were in but they didn’t want to share all the policies that have been decided.
“The British since the very beginning were part-time Europeans, what we need are full time Europeans,” he asserted.
Juncker still believes the UK wishes to leave the EU despite all the political chaos going on within the nation at the moment. However, he added that Brexit would be a “lose-lose situation” for the UK and the EU.
Asked whether he believed there was “a special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit” like European Council President Donald Tusk said earlier this year, Juncker said he did not believe in hell.
“I wouldn’t put someone in hell because they were doing their best, mainly Theresa May,” he said, adding that they negotiated not a “deal” with May but a “treaty”.
He said that he would’ve liked for the British parliament to accept the Withdrawal Agreement, adding that “things would be easier” now.
Juncker said it was a “mistake” to put the question of Brexit to a referendum.
Juncker disagreed with the portfolio titled “Protecting our European Way of Life” given to Greece’s new commissioner, Margaritis Schinas, a former member of the European Parliament and a long-serving official at the Commission.
The outgoing president added he knew that the title of the portfolio did not correspond with Schinas’ values and that the language is likely to be changed.
“I don’t like the idea that the European way of life is opposed to migration. Accepting those that come from far away is part of the European way of life,” he said, adding that the portfolio should be more precise.
Juncker said that for him, the “European Way of life” meant putting together main talents and energies, and respect for others independently from their colour and their home states.
At a press briefing, spokeswoman for the European Commission Mina Andreeva refuted the idea that Juncker was criticising von der Leyen’s choice of name for the portfolio:
“No, that is also not correct, he is not criticising the President-elect. On the contrary, he actually said very positive words about her, if you were to watch the entire interview what the President said is that he criticises and he strongly disagrees with the interpretation that is given to this portfolio name, which is not correct,” she said, adding “better to see these things in context and in full.”
The portfolio name has caused outrage among a group of MEPs who want it to change.
On Wednesday, French MEP Karima Delli asked for lawmakers in parliament to send a letter to Von der Leyen in support of changing the name.
However, Andreeva said there were no plans to change the name.
As for the appointment of Ursula von der Leyen, Juncker said the way she was brought in as a candidate for the European Commission presidency was not “highly transparent”, adding that the European Parliament did not play its role.
“They claimed that only a spitzenkandidaten should become president,” he said. “But it did not play its role and accepted that the Council appointed two vice-presidents of the Commission and that is not the business of the European Council.”
On the question of Viktor Orban
When asked whether he felt defeated by Orban’s anti-Brussels campaign, Juncker answered, “no that’s what he wanted.”
He added that he actually has a good personal relationship with Orban and that he admired his resistance to Soviet occupation in Hungary, calling him a “hero”.
But then Orban turned “less European and became aggressive against the commission,” said Juncker. “Even if the commission did a lot for Hungary, which Orban accepted privately.”