Juncker: We should tell the public the truth, not follow public opinion
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has told a conference that he has “no faith or confidence” in opinion polls.
Jean-Claude Juncker | Photo credit: Press Association
His comments, in a parliamentary debate on the future of the EU on Thursday, come less than 24 hours after a Eurobarometer poll said public support for the EU was at its highest level since the early 1980s.
For the first time since 2007, 60 per cent think that being a member of the EU is a good thing for their country and 67 per cent think that their country has benefitted from EU membership - the highest figure since 1983.
The poll findings were released to coincide with the launch of Parliament’s campaign for the 2019 European elections and were quickly seized on by the assembly’s President Antonio Tajani to suggest that, despite Brexit, the EU remains stronger than ever.
Giving a keynote address to mark the 60th anniversary of the EESC, Jean-Claude Juncker said the Commission and the EU “should refrain from saying only good things” about the bloc, adding that it had to be “critical too.”
When asked directly about the Eurobarometer survey he said, “I don’t believe in them and nor do I work on the basis of what opinion polls say. One of the reasons is that a few years ago an opinion polls said that no less than 92 per cent of people in Luxembourg thought I was a good Prime Minister.”
He added, “That is why I think opinion polls are always wrong and that we should not put our trust in them.
“But nor do I think that we should follow the ups and downs of public opinion which is what is happening in Europe currently.”
He said, “We should tell the public the truth, not follow public opinion.”
With a steady decline in participation, Juncker was also asked how public turnout in next May’s elections might be improved and, on this, he said, “We have to tell our citizens the truth. Of course, we, the EU, have our failures and weaknesses but we are also accumulating successes.
“What we are not doing is presenting successes of the EU. The budget deficit has been reduced and we have created 10 million jobs in Europe but does anyone know about this? No one talks about it but if, under my presidency, we had lost 10 million jobs it would have been my fault.”
He said the EU-wide public meetings about the EU’s future which are currently taking place will help convey the message about what the EU has achieved. He said that, so far, 700 citizens’ dialogues have been organised and another 600 are planned before the election.
Juncker was reminded of recent comments by French President Emmanuel Macron in Parliament in Strasbourg, when he warned that there was danger of Europe becoming “a generation of sleepwalkers” in what he called “a European civil war.”
Sharing the platform, Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the Committee of the Regions, said he felt that people “feared the EU” and that it was no longer “a source of hope” for its 500 million citizens.
He said, “We have to remember that Europe is not about Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg and, ahead of the elections, this is the message that needs to enter the hearts and minds of citizens.”
He added, “We also have to make the MFF (the next long-term EU budget) forward thinking and a success before the next elections.”
The debate on the future of the EU heard concerns about the “dark forces of populism” and populists who point finger at EU saying that it is always to blame.”
Another speaker, Luca Jahier, President of the EESC, said he believes his organisation “can help build bridges between civil society and the EU.
He said, “I agree with Juncker that we have to be bold enough to speak the truth more. We believe that it is imperative to support a common sense of belonging and purpose among European citizens.
“We need not only more effective EU policies but also a new positive European narrative, which can reconnect citizens with the European project, while restoring people’s trust in politics, strengthening cohesion and countering isolationist and nationalistic as well as populist tendencies.”
He told the meeting, “The foundation for this endeavour lies in culture, education, driving creativity, openness, solidarity and intercultural exchange. Especially we need to create the right environment for the young generation to regain its trust in European society.”
At the end of a 40-minute debate, in which Brexit was not mentioned once, European Council President Donald Tusk, speaking via a video link, said, “Our hopes can only be delivered if civil society is on board.”
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