By the ordinarily staid standards of EU officials, Jean-Claude Juncker can be outspoken. The European Commission (EC) president might couch his criticisms in humor—such as when he addressed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a “dictator,” shook his hand, and slapped his cheek (Orban wasn’t amused)—but there’s often little doubt what he means. So when on Thursday in Malta Juncker spoke to his fellow Christian Democrats from across Europe, it was not totally out of character for him to declare that if President Trump continues to promote Brexit to other members of the European Union, “I’m going to promote the independence of Ohio and the exit of Texas.”
First, a brief lesson on what the EC is and what Juncker does: The EC, the EU's executive arm, proposes and enforces European law, manages EU policy, and represents the bloc internationally. The EC has 28 commissioners, one from each of the EU's member states, including a president, who leads the body. Juncker, who is about halfway through his five-year term, became EC president in 2014, against the wishes of EU leaders like David Cameron, who at the time was the U.K.’s prime minister. Cameron feared that Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, represented the kind of unelected European bureaucrat whom the U.K. media and certain sections of the public had railed against for years. Juncker believes in open borders, and a federal EU with ever-closer relations among its members. This view, while perhaps appealing to global conglomerates keen to hire across borders without the need for cumbersome immigration restrictions, and workers who want to move, are less popular among EU states that want to retain more than a modicum of sovereignty while continuing to remain part of the EU and enjoy the benefits of membership.