„We shouldn’t agree with the populists, but confront them instead”
WELT AM SONNTAG: Mr President, you once said that Europe was the love of your life. A great love can sometimes be a cause of despair, can it not?
Jean-Claude Juncker: I said that during the European election campaign in 2014. I travelled across all the EU countries and I fell in love anew with this continent. When flying from one country to another, on an almost hourly basis, you discover European landscapes and their endearing charms all over again. There is no other continent like ours, where over a distance of just 150 kilometres you can travel through three different landscapes. In Europe you encounter a broad range of people over a relatively short distance, and you hear a wide range of languages and dialects. I was particularly touched by the dialects. What richness!
WELT AM SONNTAG:But do you also occasionally despair of Europe?
Juncker: There is no reason to despair of Europe. But of course one may have one’s doubts. I have every confidence that the European Union has a future. You only need to visit a war cemetery to see what the alternative to European integration is. What does make me very angry, however, is the fact that the decision-making processes in the EU are sometimes too slow. And there is something else I find worrying: I used to have the feeling that the continent was continuously growing closer together. Over the past ten years, however, I have increasingly gained the impression that people in Europe are growing apart. We have to ensure that these rifts do not become too deep.
WELT AM SONNTAG: There are a number of battles still to be fought before then. In the dispute with Donald Trump over car tariffs you scored an unexpected victory and secured concessions from the US President, whereas many European leaders such as Chancellor Merkel and President Macron had previously failed miserably. How did you do that?
Juncker: I would simply say that the chemistry between us was right. And above all, I was able to convince him because I was speaking on behalf of 500 million Europeans, and because I had looked at the White House’s figures beforehand. In this trade dispute, I realised that I would not win him over with European figures. I had learned from my experience at the G7 summit in Taormina, where the US President constantly called my figures into question. Of course our figures were correct, but I got through to him in the Oval Office because he thought I was still arguing on the basis of our statistics. At the decisive moment, I was able to say: ‘These are your figures, Mister President.’
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