Monday 16 September 2019

'Hair-fluffing' by Juncker is 'ill-advised', says Varadkar at EU summit talks on Brexit

But Taoiseach has 'absolute and immense confidence' in the EU Commission President

ERRATIC: Leo with Juncker on a recent visit to Ireland. Picture: Damien Eagers
ERRATIC: Leo with Juncker on a recent visit to Ireland. Picture: Damien Eagers
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted Jean-Claude Juncker has never been "anything other than sober" at meetings he attended with the EU Commission President.

The Taoiseach's comments follow long-running commentary about Mr Juncker's consumption of alcohol after he was filmed on a number of occasions stumbling in public.

Mr Juncker has always insisted he does not have issues with alcohol, but maintains he suffers from sciatica which sometimes causes him to struggle when he walks.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent last week, the Taoiseach said: "I have never once seen him anything other than sober and he has sciatica and walks in particular way and some elements of the media make that out to be related to alcohol.

"It's not. I know it's not," he added.

The Taoiseach said he has "absolute and immense" confidence in Mr Juncker who he added was a "very good colleague" and a "very good supporter of Ireland".

However, Mr Varadkar said the Commission President's behaviour towards a senior female official at a recent EU summit was "ill-advised".

Mr Juncker has come under pressure after he was filmed erratically ruffling a senior female EU official's hair before kissing her on the cheek after he arrived for a meeting in Brussels.

"Probably ill-advised to fluff other people's hair though," Mr Varadkar said, adding: "I wouldn't do that myself."

Yesterday, UK Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd described Mr Juncker's behaviour towards EU's deputy head of protocol Pernilla Sjolin as "grotesque".

"I mean, if that happened in our parliament I hope there would be a formal complaint," Ms Rudd added.

She said she would often feign having a "terrible cold" to avoid getting a "bear hug" at EU summits.

She also said the way Mr Juncker embraced UK Prime Minister Theresa May at the last EU summit was "ghastly".

The prime minister and the Commission President clashed at the December EU summit over claims Mr Juncker described her as "nebulous" during a private meeting.

Video footage emerged of Ms May involved in a heated exchange with Mr Juncker over her belief that he described her personal position on Brexit as nebulous. Mr Juncker said he was referring to the Britain's position on Brexit.

Last week, the Taoiseach backed Mr Juncker's position.

"I think he was referring to some of the requests or demands from the UK but that wasn't a remark about her personally," he said.

When he addressed the Dail in June, the former Luxembourg prime minister began his address by saying: "I have some difficulties in walking. I am not drunk; I have sciatica. I would prefer to be drunk."

In July, Mr Juncker asked for "respect" when he was asked if he was drunk when he was pictured staggering at a Nato summit.

Mr Juncker has been the subject of criticism from right-wing politicians who have used images of the commission president struggling to walk to make comments about his alcohol consumption.

Sunday Independent

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