Last week, the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker attended the NATO Summit. However, quite a stir was raised when Juncker appeared unable to climb a few, small steps up a podium. Video footage emerged of Juncker hesitating at the bottom of the stairs before being stabilised by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. When on the podium, he was unable to stand properly and was supported by his European colleagues.
This incident has raised questions about the health of the President. The 63 year-old has blamed to incident to a bout of sciatica. Sciatica is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself, it is a symptom of an underlying medical condition and is generally characterised by pain going down the lower back. It has the tendency to cause the feeling of pins and needles within ones leg and the pain can often be debilitating.
Many raised the question, perhaps unfairly, of the sobriety of Juncker. However, there have been consistent rumours of the drinking problems of the President over many, many years in the public eye. There was for example, the famous incident at the 2015 Riga summit. Viktor Orbán was welcomed by Juncker with a cheery ‘The dictator is coming!’ then a playful slap to the face. The Belgian Charles Michel was greeted with a kiss on his bald head. It was later put down to Juncker’s supposedly effervescent personality but his antics were on full display to the cameras.
However, the bigger issue at play here is the ability to question. Viviane Reding, an MEP and former Luxembourg commissioner has said that anyone who has questioned the President’s sobriety is ‘indecent’. Margaritis Schinas, spokesman for the Commission said that questioning his health is “more than tasteless” and that “some press try to make insulting headlines by exploiting President Juncker’s pain.”
The EU’s dismissive nature of this issue goes to the heart of the problems for the bloc; deflection of democracy. Leaders across the world face constant scrutiny; of their health, their policies, their abilities and their leadership. Donald Trump, Theresa May, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron would not be afforded the luxury of deflecting these questions because they understand that fundamentally, democracy is dependent upon transparency.
The EU however, seems to think it is above such transparency. The moment one questions the leader’s ability to perform his job, one is labelled as ‘indecent’ and what’s worse is that the EU doesn’t understand why anyone would ask such questions. This it seems is a completely separate entity, determined to deflect because it believes that it is above transparency. However, people should not be afraid to ask questions and EU leaders should be able to answer them.