Questions mount about Juncker’s health
News | 13.07.2018
Jean-Claude Juncker is recovering from an attack of sciatica, his chief spokesman said Friday, as questions mounted about the European Commission president’s health following a video that showed him unable to walk without assistance at a NATO leaders’ event on Wednesday.
The video showed Juncker stumbling and repeatedly needing assistance from fellow leaders to regain his balance and avoid falling. At one point, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appeared to save Juncker from falling backwards.
Juncker’s spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, on Friday publicly thanked Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa on Juncker’s behalf for assisting him at the dinner.
“The president Wednesday night, he suffered from a particularly painful attack of sciatica accompanied by cramps,” Schinas said at his daily press conference. “The president has himself publicly stated that this sciatica effects his ability to walk. That was unfortunately the case Wednesday night.”
In response to a barrage of questions, Schinas insisted that Juncker was fully capable of performing his duties, but declined to provide details about the president’s medication.
Schinas also expressed anger at suggestions that Juncker was intoxicated. “I think it’s more than tasteless that some press tried to make insulting headlines by exploiting President Juncker’s pain,” he said. “I don’t think this is elegant. I don’t think this is fair.”
Juncker, 63, has faced questions for several years about alcoholism and long denied any problem. On Friday, a member of the European Parliament, Harald Vilimsky, who is also secretary-general of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), issued a statement calling on Juncker to resign.
In the statement, Vilimksy said the now viral “online appearance of a stumbling Juncker who had to be helped by several heads of state in the context of the latest NATO summit makes the entire European Union a laughing stock.”
The FPÖ is part of Austria’s governing coalition. Austria is in charge of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU until the end of the year.
Citing public concerns raised in 2014 about Juncker’s drinking, the statement called on the former prime minister of Luxembourg to leave his post and seek treatment. “Juncker should get all the help in the world to get a grip on this obvious problem, but he has to free his seat in the Commission quickly,” the statement said. Rejecting the explanation of back problems, the statement said: “Everyone in the Brussels bubble knows better.”
Juncker’s mandate ends next year and he has said that he will not seek a second term.
Rutte, who was one of several leaders to assist Juncker at the dinner, told Dutch media that the president had a back problem.
Schinas said that Juncker’s schedule had not been affected. “He is taking medication and feels better, and you will see yesterday he had a full program,” Schinas said at the news conference, adding: “I do not wish anyone to suffer such pain.”
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