Despite coming from one of the EU’s smallest countries, Jean-Claude Juncker is one of the leading figures on the EU political scene.
Prime Minister of Luxembourg from 1995 to 2013, Juncker is strongly pro-integration and pro-euro. He was, until the end of 2012, President of the Eurogroup and is a regular fixture at European Council meetings.
He was the longest-serving head of government in the EU, his term ending in December 2013 with a Liberal-Socialist-Green coalition replacing the Christian Social People’s Party in power in Luxembourg following elections in October 2013. These elections followed Juncker’s resignation as Prime Minister in the wake of a spying and wire-tapping scandal.
Freed from national power, Juncker was elected by the EPP as its candidate for the Commission presidency and is the frontrunner for the job following the elections. Should he fail to take the Commission post, he is also a potential nominee for the European Council presidency (although given that his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy, is another centre-right politician from a neighbouring (small) country, this is perhaps unlikely).
Born in 1954, Juncker was elected to the Luxembourgish parliament at the age of 29 and immediately placed in the ministerial team of Jacques Santer, as labour minister. By 1989 – and following a serious car crash that led to him spending two weeks in a coma – Juncker had added the role of finance minister to that of labour minister. In 1995 he added a third position – that of prime minister – with Jacques Santer becoming President of the European Commission.
Juncker immediately burnished his European credentials, calming Franco-German tensions over the architecture of economic and monetary union during the Dublin summit.
Re-elected in 1999 and again in 2004, in 2005 Juncker led Luxembourg’s presidency of the European Council during the difficult discussions over the EU’s long-term budget and the rejection of the constitutional treaty by Dutch and French voters. Juncker had staked his political credibility on winning a referendum in Luxembourg on the issue, and the constitution was backed by 56.5% of voters. He won the Charlemagne Prize in 2006.
A smoker and bon viveur, Juncker is on the political right but not an ideological supporter of free markets. According to Daniel Cohn Bendit, the leader of the Greens in the European Parliament, “he is the most socialist Christian Democrat there is”, possibly due to the influence of his father, who was a metalworker and trade unionist.