‘Press freedom has limits’: top EU official slams UK newspapers as Brexit talks near ‘moment of truth’
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker – often a target of Britain’s papers – claims the press invades the privacy of people in distress
Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted that there must be limits to the freedom of the press as he accused British media of trampling over the human rights of politicians.
In an outspoken interview at a crunch point in the Brexit negotiations, the European Commission president also lamented that the former prime minister, David Cameron, had blocked him from campaigning during the 2016 referendum.
“If the commission intervened, perhaps the right questions would have entered the debate,” Juncker told a group of Austrian newspapers. “Now you discover new problems almost daily, on both sides. At that time, it was already clear to us what trials and tribulations this pitiful vote of the British would lead to. I am always amazed about what I am always blamed for.”
Juncker, 63, has been the focus of attacks in the media for his reputed fondness for alcohol and his father’s record during the second world war.
Joseph Juncker, who died in 2016, fought in the German Wehrmacht after Germany invaded Luxembourg and he has been accused by British newspapers of being a sympathiser of Adolf Hitler’s government.
The commission president was accused in recent months of being drunk at a Nato summit in Brussels after video emerged of him unable to walk without help.
His spokesman blamed sciatica and cramps. Juncker also appealed for “respect” after questions were raised about his health.
The former prime minister of Luxembourg, whose appointment as commission president was vehemently opposed by Cameron and a significant number of UK newspapers, said in his latest interview that while he was determined to strike a deal with current Prime Minister Theresa May he was not sorry that the UK media would be less of a significant force in Brussels.
“The British press is such that I will not miss it,” Juncker said. “It is, in part so, that they do not respect the human rights of political actors at all. Press freedom also has its limits … One should not bring people in privacy in distress.”
Juncker, whose term as commission president will end next year, said: “Incidentally, the Cameron government had asked me not to interfere in this 2016 referendum campaign.”
In the wake of Juncker’s nomination as commission president in 2014, Cameron admitted he would face an uphill struggle to keep Britain in the EU, claiming the new EU chief had been a force for weakening the standing of member states. Only hard-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban backed the UK’s opposition to the president.
Juncker nevertheless struck a more optimistic note in his interview about the Brexit negotiations, with a crucial leaders’ summit less than two months away.
The EU has said that it needs to see “maximum progress” by the European council meeting on 17 October, in particular on the Irish border issue. The summit in Brussels has been described by EU leaders as the “moment of truth” in the Brexit talks.
Juncker told reporters in Austria – the current holder of the rolling presidency of the European council – that recent days had provided some cause for optimism in the talks. A summit in mid-November has been pencilled in should an agreement not be made in October.