SPIEGEL ONLINE Interview with Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker 'Merkel Fought Like a Lioness'

Luxembourg's Prime Minister played a pivotal role in the EU summit that ended on Saturday in Brussels. He spoke to SPIEGEL ONLINE about the German Chancellor, selfish nationalism and Merkel's similarity to wild cats.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is one of the European Union's biggest cheerleaders.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker is one of the European Union's biggest cheerleaders.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Prime Minister, on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold her farewell speech in the European Parliament as her six-month stint as holder of the EU presidency comes to an end. How do you think she did?

Jean-Claude Juncker: During the German presidency, there have been results that have brought Europe forward. Not just most recently at the summit in Brussels, but also in meetings prior to that on climate change -- and also in questions of details that weren't necessarily in the public spotlight.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In July, Portugal will be taking over the EU presidency for the next six months. Lisbon now has the responsibility of organizing the Intergovernmental Conference which last week's summit provided the mandate for. The conference will work out a text for the treaty by autumn. Will the IGC be characterized by the same back-and-forth seen in Brussels?

Juncker: No. The mandate for the IGC is very extensive -- it is full of detailed specifications that allow little room for further changes. No topics can be introduced in the IGC that weren't introduced in Brussels. And no additional viewpoints and demands can be brought up. It is to the German presidency's lasting credit that it has tied up the package nicely.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The negotiations in Brussels were difficult, first and foremost because of the Poles. But Great Britain also had a special wish list. Are EU summits, which now include 27 heads of state and government, now more of a forum for bickering than for cooperation?

Juncker: That's not new. It was the case when Europe had just nine member states -- first protect your national interests before looking out for the European community. That has become a dominant tendency at these meetings in recent years. I would however make a plea for fair-mindedness -- some keep that in mind, but not all.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Which countries are you thinking about in particular?

Juncker: The British have expressed their national reservations since they joined; the Danes used to do so as well, though they have since become more pro-Europe. The Irish, a very pro-European country, are -- in London's shadow -- constantly trying to use EU agreements to protect their interests, especially vis-à-vis the British. It's not a general reflex, but I certainly see a tendency that it could become more widespread.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In other words, the more members the European Union has, the more we see a return to nationalism?

Juncker: That would be too simple an explanation. Expansion has increased the tendency for nations to go it alone, but it doesn’t explain it. In the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, Great Britain and Denmark pushed for an opt-out clause, a special arrangement in the area of economic and monetary union. The opt-out allows them to decide for themselves if they want to join the euro zone. London also achieved this on social policy.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was there ever a moment during the marathon negotiating sessions last week in Brussels when you thought: now we are going to fail?

Juncker: Oh, I wanted to just end the talks late on Friday night. If I had been the EU president, I probably wouldn’t have been able to overcome this urge.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because of the Poles?

Juncker: The negotiations with Polish President Lech Kaczynski at the summit and with Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Warsaw were almost unbearable. Ms. Merkel was patient, she fought like a tame lioness when she had to and like a wild lioness, when that was necessary. She also allowed the numerous comments from outside …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … you mean the nationalistic voices coming from Poland …

Juncker: … to roll off her back without being affected or insulted by them. She really acted, in a positive sense, like someone who wasn't just the German Chancellor.

SPEIGEL ONLINE: Poland has long resisted the double majority voting system, which in Warsaw's view is to the disadvantage of small and medium-sized states. You yourself suggested postponing the double majority system until 2014, with a transition phase until 2017. That was early on Friday evening, when everything looked blocked. When did you actually discuss this formula with Ms. Merkel?

Juncker: I already made this suggestion to the Chancellor on Friday at about noon, and at her request I then discussed the idea with a few colleagues and then made the suggestion again during the evening meeting at 9 p.m. That then achieved the breakthrough.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was Ms. Merkel always involved in the negotiations?

Juncker: I wouldn’t have done anything that the Chancellor did not agree with. I also related to the others, such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, that nothing should be done against Germany. In this situation, it would have been very easy for the French and others to lobby for Polish interests, which were excessive, at Germany's expense. But you cannot do that when you have fought and worked together with Germany for decades in Europe's interest. For me it was clear. The compromise could not be at Germany's expense.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: After the Intergovernmental Conference in the autumn, the trimmed-down and modified treaty will be ratified once again in the parliaments of all 27 EU member states. If just one country veers off course, then the whole thing will have failed again. Are you expecting any surprises?

Juncker: I am confident. Of course I can't put myself in the exact position of the British or other parliamentarians. We will see a referendum in Ireland anyway. In Great Britain, I notice in the various political camps that the pressure is growing to organize a referendum. And it is not really possible to predict what the outcome would be.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The EU will probably expand further, and may eventually include Turkey. Tuesday saw the resumption of accession negotiations, which are expected to last 10 to 15 years. Three chapters were supposed to be negotiated, but France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has blocked talks on the economic and monetary policy chapter. Are the negotiations with Ankara being subtly thwarted?

Juncker: Those who have been dealing with France's internal sensitivities for years are not going to be surprised by the latest decision.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are blockades such as the French one a sign that in the end, Turkey will have to settle for a privileged partnership?

Juncker: It is premature to draw the kind of conclusion that your question suggests. But one has to realize that extra obstacles have been placed in the path of Turkey's accession.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If Turkey had been a member of the EU already, how would the recent EU summit in Brussels have turned out? Would negotiations have been even more difficult than they were this time around with Poland?

Juncker: In terms of negotiating methods, it would have been more difficult. In terms of content, it would have been almost impossible.

Interview conducted by Severin Weiland


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