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Juncker’s problems standing caused by “painful attack” of back problem

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Juncker leaves the event in a wheelchair (Getty)

Jean-Claude Juncker’s difficulties staying upright at an international summit this week were the result of a flare-up of a long-time health problem, his spokesman has said.

The European Commission president “suffered from a very particularly painful attack of sciatica accompanied by cramps,” according to Margaritis Schinas.

“The president has himself publicly states that this sciatica effects his ability to walk,” he added. “This was unfortunately the case Wednesday night.”


“The president wishes to thank publicly prime ministers Mark Rutte [Netherlands] and Antonio Costa [Portugal] for assisting him during this painful moment. He’s taking medication and feels better.”

The Commission’s chief spokesperson offered the explanation to journalists after footage showing Juncker being propped-up by European leaders at a Nato event went viral.

That sparked accusations – mostly from anti-EU politicians and activists – that he had been drunk.


In an effort to dismiss those suggestions, Schinas said Juncker had attended Nato’s gala dinner as planned after recovering from this “acute cramp” and had attended his full programme of meeting the morning after the incident.

Asked explicitly whether Juncker had been drunk, he replied: “I think it is more than tasteless that some press tried to make insulting headlines by exploiting president Juncker’s pain. I don’t think this is elegant and I don’t think this is fair.”

The last time Juncker had an attack was while delivering a speech to the Irish parliament, which was brought on by having to climb some stairs to reach the podium.

At the time, he quipped: “I would rather be drunk.” That sparked a fresh round of speculation that Juncker had a drinking problem – a rumour that has long swirled around Brussels.

Where do the rumours come from?

Claims that the former prime minister of Luxembourg enjoys a glass of cognac at breakfast were taken so seriously they were reportedly discussed by EU heads of state prior to Juncker becoming Commission president.

An incident where he referred to Hungarian president Viktor Orban as “the dictator” but kissing him is amongst erratic behaviour which has fuelled the rumours.

That incident led to him being publicly confronted about the rumours by a French newspaper in 2016.

He said: “I have a balance problem with my left leg that requires me to grab the rail when on a staircase. After a lunch I grabbed a Dutch minister by the arm and he said that I was drunk.

“This problem goes back to a serious car accident. In 1989, I spent three weeks in a coma, and then six months in a wheelchair.”

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