When asked how would describe Ms Merkel, the Luxembourgish official who himself retired after 37 years in politics said Angela Merkel was: “A calm voice of reason that we will miss in Europe.” However, the compliments soon ended when Mr Juncker was pushed a little further on the legacy of the German Chancellor.
The publication, RND, described Ms Merkel as the “monument” of Europe, stating that without her, the EU was the same as Paris not having the Eiffel Tower.
To this, Mr Juncker pointed out that she had no competition.
The former President of the European Commission said: “Angela Merkel has had a great influence in Europe. She shaped the EU. But she was not a lonely knight in a desert of ungifted people. That wouldn’t work in the EU. There are no solo decisions.”
When asked what he appreciated about Ms Merkel, the former EU Chief said she was a bit of a comedian.
Mr Juncker said: “She is a gifted impersonator of other heads of government.”
He added: “She has a sense of humour. She can laugh at herself. The Germans may not know that, but that’s the way it is. We often talked about private matters and are friends.”
Mr Juncker appeared to be frustrated by Ms Merkel’s long-term strategies.
He said: “As a scientist, she thinks about everything by considering the end picture. She takes her time before deciding. She has often said to me: I am not sure whether what we [are about to] decide today will still be the right decision ten years from now.”
He added: “That annoyed me sometimes. It didn’t make me white hot, but it did make the lower half of my face go red. But I don’t want to be misunderstood: Angela Merkel usually asked the right questions. This is a sign of quality, not weakness.”
German elections: Von der Leyen at crisis point
On speaking of the border crisis, RND asked Mr Juncker if Ms Merkel divided Europe over the affair.
The ex-commissioner said: “Angela Merkel did not divide Europe.”
He continued: “First of all, I want to emphasise once again that she did not open the borders. In fact, she didn’t close the borders. It’s more than a nuance. What would have happened if she had closed the border back then?”
He then said: “Then there would have been a backlog of refugees in Austria and Hungary. The countries would not have been able to deal with that.”
With Ms Merkel set to step down after 16 years in power, Germany is on the verge of seeing Olaf Scholz emerge as the Chancellor of a so-called ‘traffic-light’ coalition.
Speaking of this, Mr Juncker said: “Olaf Scholz is a staunch European, even if, as Federal Chancellor, he naturally has to represent German interests. I want to put it this way: The pandemic has made us all more aware that joint solutions are needed in an emergency like the corona pandemic.”
He added: “The EU is not a solo show, but a collective event. Besides, Scholz didn’t just become Federal Chancellor. Anyone who lifted the SPD from the valley of tears to seventh heaven has talent. I believe that the new federal government’s European policy will only change in nuances, certainly not fundamentally.”
Mr Juncker, who was the former President of the European Commission, has now been appointed as President to the Governing Board of the Academy of European Law (ERA).
Mr Juncker will succeed Jacques Santer, who served as President of the ERA for 21 years.
The former EU official, who served as President of the Commission for five years, left frontline politics two years ago but expressed his pleasure at following in the footsteps of his fellow Luxembourgian.
Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg