The Juncker years

by Thomas Krings
With the von der Leyen Commission taking office in December 2019. It is time to say goodbye to one of Europe’s most visible figures over the past decades.

With the von der Leyen Commission taking office in December 2019. It is time to say goodbye to one of Europe’s most visible figures over the past decades.

When Jean-Claude Juncker took office as the President of the European Commission, people could state that he started his job with profound Brussels-style experience. As a former Finance Minister and Prime Minister, Mr Juncker had been attending European summit alongside other EU Head of States and Governments in addition to heading the Eurogroup for more than eight years. Coming from Luxembourg, one of the EU’s smallest member state, Mr. Juncker has an impressive linguistic resume as he is fluent in German, English, French and Luxembourgish.

Throughout his political career, he has played a key role when it came to brokering compromises and deal making. During the early days of his position Prime Minister in Luxembourg, Juncker was called dubbed “Junior” by German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl. This relationship between both men became one of crucial importance as Juncker became Kohl’s chief lieutenant when it came to further develop the European Union. In 1996, Prime Minister Juncker successfully mediated a dispute between French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl over the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union policy. The press dubbed Juncker the "Hero of Dublin" for achieving an unlikely consensus between the two. Mister “Compromise” was deemed by many to be the ideal compromise to the chair the European Commission when the European elections took place in 2014.

The Ten Political Priorities of the Juncker Commission in 2014

We recall that, prior to his election as President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker set out the policy priorities which would serve as the political mandate for his five-year term in office. With the stated aim of focusing on the 'big things', he outlined the following ten key areas in which he wanted the EU to make a difference and deliver concrete results for citizens:

1. A new boost for jobs, growth and investment 
2. A connected digital single market 
3. A resilient energy union with a forward-looking climate change policy 
4. A deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base 
5. A deeper and fairer economic and monetary union (EMU) 
6. A reasonable and balanced free trade agreement with the United States 
7. An area of justice and fundamental rights based on mutual trust 
8. Towards a new policy on migration 
9. Europe as a stronger global actor 
10. A union of democratic change. Adapting to an ever-changing environment

Since its entry office, the Juncker Commission worked and delivered along these guidelines, adopting a detailed work programme every year, announcing additional initiatives on the occasion of the annual State of the Union addresses, and withdrawing certain proposals when it has deemed it appropriate. But what are the main features and achievements of the Juncker Commission?

Just to mention a few…

Unfortunately, but also inevitably, much of his tenure was consumed by the relatively mundane and routine matters familiar to his predecessors. It is Brexit which weighs heavy on his time in office. Brexit manages to overshadow many of Juncker’s achievements, particularly how he maintained the Economic stability of the eurozone and handled numerous economic crises efficiently.

The way Juncker and his Commission dealt with the Greek crisis was remarkable, virtually bringing Greece back from the brink of the abyss its debt levels would have pushed its economy into. And as far as the eurozone is concerned, Juncker’s famous EFSI Plan for the economic development of the EU has exceeded expectations and delivered more than €300 billion worth of investment across Europe, which is much more than the initial targets.

Juncker and his Commission have also promoted result-oriented reforms and managed to effectively modernise the political institutions in Brussels. For instance, he and his Head of Cabinet Martin Selmayr, have centralised the Spokespersons Service in the Commission, meaning that individual Commissioners would not have their personal press people anymore. 

Together, they also created a structure with appointed Commission Vice-Presidents now in charge of certain policy areas without having their own troops. Directorate Generals, which had been a reason for some Commission candidates to turn down an offer to become a Vice-President because they did not want to work without a proper Directorate General under them were now a thing of the past. The Vice-President structure has been kept in place by the new President, Ursula von der Leyen, and it has been further developed by adding som “Executive Vice-Presidents” which are “more equal” than the other Vice-Presidents.

Overall, President Juncker has not only stayed true to a number of plans he announced upon his entry into office, such as extending the digital single market industry, and a fairer internal market – which in itself is a lot more than certain other leaders do. He has also gone the extra mile through his commitment and has thus negotiated new trade deals with Canada, Australia and New Zealand in record time.

 Jean Claude Juncker concludes his mandate, and we note that he has often been criticised by observers. The effectiveness of his achievements have been questioned and his priorities challenged, but that has never deterred him from continuing on his task of bringing change and reform in the society that he works for and his achievements as President of the European Commission do outweigh by far his failures. 

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