Aachen’s annual Charlemagne Prize for distinguished service on behalf of European unification went to Jean-Claude Juncker for his efforts to promote European unity.
The prize was first awarded in 1950
At 51, Jean-Claude Juncker is quite young for one of Europe’s elder statesmen. Now in his 11th year as Prime Minister of Luxemburg, he is respected at home and abroad for his honesty and straight talking style. That is why no one was surprised when he turned down the offer of the European Commission presidency last year.
"You can’t run for prime minister on the13th of June and then turn around on the 17th or 18th and say, ‘sorry people, you’ve gone and voted me in, but I’m off to the European Commission now,'" he said. "You just can’t deceive people like that."
Jean-Claude Juncker rose to political prominence at an early age. In 1984, at the age of 30, he was elected to parliament as a member of the Christian Social People's Party. In 1990, he became leader of the party and by 1995, was both prime minister and finance minister of Luxemburg.
Yet despite his reluctance to abandon his electorate for the European stage, the Christian Democrat has always been at the forefront of efforts to further European integration. Juncker was instrumental in setting up a common European currency during the 1990s and has played a crucial role in balancing the national interests of Europe’s larger states, when they have threatened to pull the fabric of European unity apart. He has demonstrated that even a small country can have a big impact in the jungle of European politics.
Juncker follows luminaries such as Winston Churchill, Vaclav Havvel and Bill Clinton
His advice for achieving diplomatic success sounds like a passage out of a management text book.
"You have to give the other person the impression that they have achieved something," he said. "We all feel good when we achieve something. So you have to allow the other person to feel like they’ve really made a breakthrough in that moment."
A champion of integration
Jean-Claude Juncker’s passion for European integration also stems from his belief in banishing war from Europe, and escaping the continents bloody past. The son of a steel worker who was drafted by the Nazis to fight on the eastern front in the Second World War, Juncker champions integration as a means of keeping the peace. War between western European countries is unthinkable today and Europeans should take more pride in this achievement of integration, he says.
More recently, though, he has had less success in bridging Europe’s differences. He was clearly devastated by the rejection of a European constitution in referendums in France and the Netherlands last year. And when Juncker, serving as EU President at last June’s European summit, couldn’t get member states to compromise on the EU budget, he has let his frustration show.
"Others will go on to say Europe is in no crisis," he said. "I say it is stuck in a deep crisis."
Whether or not the rejection of a European constitution spells the halt of the integration process, Juncker insists he still has the motivation, if not the answers, to tackle Europe’s woes.