EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker: 5 things to know

He hails from Luxembourg and has already faced opposition before taking on the presidency.

Eric Vidal/Reuters
Jean Claude Junker makes a statement on the provisional results of the European elections in Brussels May 25, 2014.

The European Commission has a new president after Jean-Claude Juncker won 422 votes out of 729 secret ballots cast in the European Parliament. Mr. Juncker, a veteran of European politics, was the lead candidate of the center-right European People's Party, and now, as president, he takes on the most powerful role in the European Union. The Commission represents the 28-member states and proposes legislation, applies EU law, and evaluates progress of EU proposals.

Trained as a lawyer, the well-known political figure has a reputation as a suave diplomatic interlocutor who can conduct a conversation in multiple languages (he tweets in many as well). He's been the subject of intense EU politicking in recent months. But he also has a quirky side, with much being made of his often eyebrowing-raising sense of humor. 

Here are five things to know about the man who will lead the executive branch of the EU for the next five years.

1. British Prime Minister David Cameron went to the mat to oppose his candidacy.

Juncker's appointment was strongly opposed by Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron with Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban joining Cameron to vote against Juncker in June. As the Monitor reported, Cameron's opposition stemmed from arguments about individual states power in Brussels.

“It’s the wrong person,” Cameron said in Brussels, insisting that he was standing on principle. “Jean-Claude Juncker has been at the heart of the project to increase the power of Brussels and reduce the power of nation states for his entire working life. He’s not the right person to take this organization forward.” 

Juncker has been called a "federalist," a characterization he denies. He said he wants Britain to have a "fair deal" concerning its EU membership.

2. He's a – very – experienced politician.

Prior to his new role, Juncker was the longest-serving leader of any European Union country. He began his career at age 28 when he was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Labor. Within two years he became the Minister of Labor and quickly navigated the political system, becoming prime minister in 1995. He served in that position until 2013. That year, Juncker resigned amid an intelligence scandal concerning Luxembourg's former spy chief who had secretly recorded meetings using a James Bond-like wristwatch. Juncker denied wrongdoing in the case.

3. He played a key role during the eurozone's financial crisis.

Juncker headed the Eurogroup from 2005 to 2013 during the eurozone financial crisis making important decisions about bailouts and austerity. Juncker has already outlined his goals as president with a strong focus on job creation and investment in Europe.

"I see it as my key task to rebuild bridges in Europe after the crisis. To restore European citizens’ confidence. To focus our policies on the key challenges ahead for our economies and for our societies. And to strengthen democratic legitimacy on the basis of the Community method."

4. He has strong working-class roots.

Juncker's father was a steel worker and a member of a Christian trade union. Juncker's family past has been dredged up by the British media over his father's forced conscription by the Nazis during World War II. A Sun headline declared, "Juncker family's link to Nazi regime." According to an unnamed source in the Telegraph, Juncker's family portrayal has been a blow.

"Last month, his father, aged 90, who is frail and living in nursing home, wept when a radio station reported on The Sun newspaper’s allegation that he was the Juncker family’s “Nazi link,” an episode that has hardened his son’s hostility to British opposition to his appointment."

5. Not everyone gets his sense of humor.

The Telegraph described Juncker as "famous for his sarcasm, heavy drinking, and chain smoking." Before his election to the presidency he described his period between jobs saying, “I am a transgender person, in the political sense.” He has been brutally honest about moments in his political life as well, describing the difficult decisions that needed to be made concerning the eurozone crisis. “We all know what needs to be done, we just don’t know how to be re-elected after we’ve done it,” he said.

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