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Jean-Claude Juncker: The Eurocrat should heed the lessons of past Luxembourger potentates (Andrej Klizan CC0 1.0)


If one were to list Europe’s most boring capitals, then Vaduz in Liechtenstein would earn not a gold but a platinum medal. However, Luxembourg City would also be in contention. Luxembourg is a country that feels not quite there. Its dedication to the cause of European integration is understandable when one remembers that it only came to be what it is as a result of a series of historical accidents. In the 19th century it lay for many years under the sovereignty of the House of Orange, and then became separated from the Dutch line of succession because the Luxembourgers, in those days, followed Salic Law and could not permit the succession of a female Grand Duke. Still, most of the historic County of Luxembourg lies within Belgium, where it is also known as “Luxembourg”; and one reason the Luxembourgers are enthusiasts for the euro is that they were already in a longstanding currency union with Belgium before the euro came into being.

The masters of Luxembourg have enjoyed an influence in European politics out of all proportion to the size of Luxembourg (even including the Belgian bits). Jean-Claude Juncker is not the first Luxembourger to imagine that he can dictate the future of a great part of Europe, and his obstinacy recalls the political blunders and inflated self-esteem of Luxembourg’s rulers in the distant past. The accusation, true or false, that he drinks too much also echoes accusations about those past rulers. His refusal to make meaningful concessions to David Cameron, which might well have brought the Remainers victory in the British referendum, and his appointment of a hardline integrationist to lead negotiations about Brexit, conform to the image of a leader without the qualities that leadership requires. One might well ask whether the former prime minister of a country measuring 999 square miles can automatically be presumed to have the same diplomatic skills and the same understanding of world affairs as — even — the mayor of a big city such as London, whatever M. Juncker may think of the recent incumbent of that post. His imperial view of the European Union, which denies states the right to ponder their membership, thus looks very odd when set alongside the realities of power in little Luxembourg.

In the 14th century the princely dynasty of Luxembourg did have imperial pretensions. A marriage alliance brought the Luxembourg dynasty the crown of Bohemia, which was itself part of the Holy Roman Empire. There was plenty to do in Bohemia, which possessed mineral wealth and a flourishing capital at Prague; but King John of Bohemia, as John of Luxembourg became, preferred to intervene disastrously in the already complex politics of Florence and other Italian cities, before he went blind and joined his ally the French king riding fully armed into battle at Crécy. As everyone knows, this battle was a great English victory, and John’s foolhardy heroism, if it can be called that, inevitably resulted in his death.

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