Former President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has opened up huge divisions within the European Union and condemned the approach taken by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to tackle the coronavirus crisis, warning it “will cause permanent damage”.
In a revealing interview, the former President of the EU Commission criticised the EU27 for not taking a unified response to the global health pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 60,000 people across the bloc. Mr Juncker, 65, took particular aim at the response taken by the German government and has criticised Ms Merkel’s decision to extend border controls across Austria, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark until next month.
Mr Juncker told German radio station Deutschlandfunk: “The border region of the German-French-Luxembourg borders in Schengen is now closed again, during the 25th year of the Schengen agreement.
“This cannot be. The way that Germany is doing some things here will cause permanent damage.”
On Wednesday Ms Merkel announced the German government’s exit strategy from the coronavirus lockdown.
The German Chancellor confirmed social distancing measures would remain in place but shops would reopen from next week and schools from May 4.
In line with the restrictions restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas and music venues will remain shut, with large events banned until August 31.
Ms Merkel said: “We are now moving forward in small steps.
“It is a fragile situation in which caution is required, not exuberance.”
This week several other leading EU nations began lifting restrictions including in Austria, Italy and Spain.
Mr Juncker also hit out at the lack of solidarity shown between the EU nations from the very start of the health crisis.
Mr Juncker, who was succeeded as EU Commission President by Ursula von der Leyen in December 2019, indicated things may have been different if Brussels had control over health policies across the bloc.
He said: “At the beginning of this corona crisis, there were hardly any coordinated approaches.
“This is understandable as so far as the European Union and the European Commission doesn’t have any competences regarding public health policies.”
Last week the EU reached an agreement for a £438billion (€500bn) coronavirus package to boost the economies worst hit by the effects of COVID-19.
A furious Mr Juncker took aim at the Dutch government for initially rejecting the terms of the bailout package and called on member states to work together.
He said: “Some governments, primarily the Dutch, used a rough tone of voice when dealing with Italy and pretended as if it was Italy’s fault they got into this crisis, from which a financial crisis can also grow.
“This is not acceptable in view of the dramatic situation.
“We have to make clear, especially towards Italy and Spain that the EU is a community of solidarity and if someone is in trouble, especially if they are not at fault, the continental solidarity has to count.”