The next generations of Europeans will have to scroll to Google’s page 3 to even find a mention of the historic State of the Union speeches that guided Europe through the most challenging crises it has faced since its creation. The man’s real work, the work done behind closed doors and powered by a small yet tight circle of his trusted team will be available, but not the most easily accessible on the internet to the average citizen.
Jean-Claude Juncker without a doubt brought into his Commission presidency a vision for Europe that was more ambitious than the last four years would have allowed, yet this vision was executed with often sombering pragmatism that helped keep the unravelling construct together.
The footage of Juncker struggling to stay standing in the park as some world leaders helped him, and others ignored the saddening scene, was by many wrongly seen as an allegory for Europe. With countries like Portugal and Ukraine doing what they could to keep the President protected, and Germany, the USA and even the UK turning their gaze and walking away.
Most sad of all, is that a year from now, the legacy of Jean-Claude Juncker, will largely be written by the internet and its algorithms. Lines of code largely influenced by how viral content has been. The mashups will resemble titles of Friends episodes. “The one with all the slapping”, “The one with the head kissing”, “The one with the dictator”, and most recently, “The one in the park.”
Juncker is a president that is capable of being funny, and even goofy when he is in a good mood. He has certainly not protected himself from going viral even when he has been at his best. But yesterday was not one of those days.
It was a hard day, and the public knowledge that President Juncker suffers from sciatica combined with the fact that he had a full schedule at the Summit met the hard reality that he is mortal. A frank exchange with the European Commission’s spokespersons, made it quite clear that this was a medical matter, which the press, and public, were asked to respect. Indeed, the resident Brussels press did treat this as a medical issue – some taking a human approach, and others a more political one. At New Europe the decision yesterday was to not give more publicity to the video – but to remind people that leaders are not superhuman. Insofar as Juncker is able to be an effective European Commission president, which he has certainly proven beyond a doubt, yesterday’s video is a non-issue.
There is a big ‘but’ to end the issue. Juncker will somewhere down the road be recognised as a historical figure in the European Union’s evolution. The fact that he made that walk, while in pain, barely able to stand, should be something that citizens stand proud of. Because Juncker could have taken the easier way to be driven through the back door or taken in on a wheelchair.
The internet is not a kind beast, and the press around the world, from blogs to newspapers will spin this one way or another. The public will go crazy over another viral video. And ultimately something must be done to remind the world that laughing at one’s pain and using it to one’s political benefit is grotesque.