Jean-Claude Juncker: Franco-German plan is good and necessary

Ex-EU chief warns a failure to agree a deal would mean that Europe is in a very serious existential crisis

Jean-Claude Juncker gave his backing to a joint French and German rescue plan for EU economies after the coronavirus pandemic, DW reported on Thursday citing its interview with ex-EU chief at his Luxembourg home. 

The 65-year-old former president of the European Commission hailed the €500bn idea as "the right response" and "absolutely necessary," but warned a failure to agree a deal would mean "a very serious existential crisis for the EU."

Juncker, whose five-year term as the Commission's head came to an end in November last year, also said he hoped the acts of solidarity on display during the pandemic would make people "better Europeans."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are lobbying the rest of the EU to back their joint plan, which would see the EU issue debt to raise €500bn on the financial markets to give as grants to regions and sectors hardest hit by COVID-19.

"I do think the proposal put forward by Germany and France is the right response," Juncker said. "It allows the EU to respond with solidarity, especially for members in southern Europe. This is absolutely necessary."

His successor as Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, is facing a difficult situation, however. Italy and Spain, the most affected EU countries, are behind the idea, but other member states such as Austria, Denmark and Sweden are arguing against allowing the EU to take on debt to boost economies, and want the money to be given as loans, not grants.

"Every country, every government and later every national parliament has the right and the duty to closely examine this proposal," admitted Juncker. "But I would like to think that the final response will be very close to the German and French plan."

Asked about Portuguese PM Antonio Costa’s comments that if the EU can't create a rescue fund, it will have failed, Juncker said he had heard such warnings before, but added, "if we can't muster a minimum of solidarity to tackle this together and create a common future, then Europe is in a very serious existential crisis."

Juncker does not believe more people will turn to anti-EU parties after the virus crisis. "The populists will of course use this crisis to explain how we need stricter border controls, that every country would be better off dealing with the crisis individually," he said. "But I believe the people of Europe have learnt from this crisis. They've learnt that one country alone will not beat this crisis. We have to all pull in the same direction."

Juncker was less glowing in his assessment of internal border closures across the EU, arguing that shutting them has been ineffective in combating COVID-19. He noted that Luxembourg had been particularly hard hit by border closures with Germany. "It forced tens of thousands of German cross-border travelers to make huge detours. It was nonsense," Juncker stated. "They closed the borders without thinking about the people who'd be the victims of such an arbitrary decision."

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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