Jean-Claude Juncker life and biography

Jean-Claude Juncker picture, image, poster

Jean-Claude Juncker biography

Date of birth : 1954-12-09
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Redange-sur-Attert, Luxembourg
Nationality : Luxemburger
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-07-22
Credited as : Politician, Prime Minister of Luxembourg, World's political leader

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Jean-Claude Juncker, born December 9, 1954 in Redange-sur-Attert, Luxembourg is a Luxemburger politician and the current Prime Minister of Luxembourg.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Western Europe, encompassing only 2,586 sq km (999 sq mi). Wedged among three countries, Germany to the east, Belgium to the north and west, and France to the south, Luxembourg's geographic location provides its inhabitants with the advantage of having prosperous neighbors that help to fuel its economy. Luxembourg is quite densely populated, with a population estimated at 448,569 people as of July 2002. The capital is Luxembourg-Ville (Lutzelburg).

Since 1985, the official language has been Letzeburgish, a German dialect with French flavoring, but both French and German are used: French in government offices and German in commercial enterprises and the press. Students are taught in both French and German in school. About 95% of its population is Roman Catholic.

The economy is strong and in 2002, it provided Luxembourgers with an estimated annual per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of US$44,000, the highest of any of the European Union (EU) countries. Steel and chemicals are important industries, and they provide many of Luxembourg's principal exports: base metals and manufactures, machinery and transport equipment, rubber, plastics, as well as textiles and clothing, stone ceramics, and glassware. Most trade occurs with other EU countries. Since the 1970s, international finance and insurance have gained a dominant position in the economy. In 2002, Luxembourg became one of twelve nations to adopt the euro as official currency.

POLITICAL BACKGROUND

In the medieval era, Luxembourg was one of many small principalities in Western Europe. For centuries, it successfully fended off efforts by its larger neighbors to absorb it. It succumbed to invasion by Nazi armies in 1940, regaining its independence in 1944, after heavy fighting between U.S. and German forces. Many American war dead, including General George S. Patton, are buried in U.S. military cemeteries in the country. Constraints of size and location have been factors in the many cooperative agreements in which Luxembourg participates, and the country has cooperated in post-World War II moves toward European integration. A customs union was established with Belgium in 1921, which was interrupted only during the German occupation of 1940-44. Luxembourg was a founding member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, and was an original member of the European Coal and Steel Community (forerunner to the European Community, now the EU). The Benelux Economic Union was negotiated in 1948, became effective in 1960, and in 1970, established Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg as a single customs union. Membership in such institutions reflects an impulse to mesh the country's future with that of other Western democratic governments.

Luxembourg has been governed by coalitions since the 1920s, with the exception of Nazi rule during the war. Luxembourg's small size allows citizens to be familiar with the social, economic and political currents of each section of the country. In such circumstances, consensus building is both important and possible, and coalition governments generally reflect an effort to forge consensus. Since World War II, the Parti Chretien Social (PCS or Christian Socialist Party), a centrist party, has led all coalitions except one. For a brief period (1974-79), the Parti Ouvrier Socialiste Luxembourgeois (POSL or Luxembourg Socialist Workers Party) led a coalition with the Parti Democratique (PD or Liberals) as their junior partners. For fifteen years (1984-99), the PCS had been the senior partner in coalition with the POSL. Jacques Santer was the leader of this coalition until January 1995, when he became president of the European Commission, the key administrative body of the EU. In the 1999 elections, the PCS formed a coalition with the PD to form a government.

Luxembourg is a hereditary constitutional monarch. Grand Duke Henri became the head of state in 2000 as his father Grand Duke Jean, who came to the throne in 1964, abdicated at the age of 79. Though Grand Duke Henri vowed to take a more active role in state affairs than his father had, his official duties are primarily ceremonial. The unicameral legislature, the 60-member Chamber of Deputies, which is elected every five years, is the true instrument that gives legitimacy to any government. The voting age is 18, and all voters are required by law to vote. Executive power is vested in the Grand Duke but is generally exercised by the Council of Ministers, under the leadership of the president of the government, also known as the prime minister.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Jean-Claude Juncker was born on 9 December 1954, in Redange-sur-Attert, Luxembourg. He was one of seven children in a working-class family. His father worked in a steel plant and was active in union affairs. Juncker excelled in school and attributes his work ethic to his father. In 1979, Juncker earned a law degree from the University of Strasbourg, but practiced law only briefly before entering politics. He is fluent in both French and German. Juncker is married; he and his wife have no children.

RISE TO POWER

In 1979, upon his graduation from law school, Juncker became president of the Christian Social Youth Organization, which is an arm of the PCS. Party leaders quickly noticed his talent for organization and willingness to make decisions. When he was 25, they made him parliamentary secretary of the PCS, a position that allowed him to see the workings of the party from the inside and to come to know its leaders well. In 1984, Juncker was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, and in that same year, at age 29, he became minister of labor. Although trained in law, he excelled in analysis of economic and financial problems, and gained a reputation for intelligence, energy, and directness. His straightforward manner and practical approach to problem solving won him allies in the business as well as the political community. A succession of important government positions followed.

He was reelected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1989, and was appointed to head both the labor and the finance ministries by Prime Minister Santer. He was reappointed to these same posts after the PCS's electoral victory of 1994. In 1990, Juncker was elected president of the PCS. This administrative position allowed him to consolidate his political base and to direct the development of party policies on all issues of importance. Jean-Claude Juncker replaced Jacques Santer as prime minister on 26 January 1995, becoming the youngest head of government of any EU state. Juncker survived the 1999 election by joining forces with the Democratic Party (DP).

LEADERSHIP

Juncker has demonstrated a commitment to maintaining Luxembourg's important position in international finance. At the same time, he remains faithful to his country's tradition of cooperation with its neighbors. The EU is the focal point for Luxembourg's political and economic future. In his view, the more closely Luxembourg works with its neighbors, the more secure the future of the country will be. Close coordination with the EU means surrendering a measure of sovereignty. Some of the larger EU countries, such as Britain, have resisted the trend towards a stronger EU. Juncker, however, has unambiguously cast Luxembourg's lot with the EU. While a minister in Santer's government, he strongly supported endorsement of the Maastricht Treaty, which called for closer coordination of economic and political policies among EU states. The Chamber of Deputies agreed to the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Among the treaty's requirements is the commitment by the EU members to the European Monetary Union (EMU). Strict qualifying stipulations, or "convergence criteria," were issued by the EU for entry into the EMU. Those stipulations required that a state should keep inflation low, that its budget deficit be modest, and that its overall debt be confined to certain limits. As finance minister at the time of agreement to meet these EMU guidelines, and later as prime minister, Juncker was responsible for shaping relevant government policy. To nobody's surprise, Luxembourg joined EMU in 1999, and in 2002, the euro was introduced as common currency.

Juncker also occupied positions in international institutions that are important to Luxembourg's position as a center of finance and enhance his country's image in the international community. From 1989 to 1995, he served as a governor of the World Bank, providing him with a detailed understanding of the international economy. In February 1995, he was named a governor of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), where he was able to follow and influence monetary and fiscal policy in a large number of nations around the world. The vantage points of the World Bank and IMF have provided Juncker with the opportunity to gain insight into world trade, the financial viability of various countries, and the borrowing needs of nations seeking to further develop their resources and industries.

DOMESTIC POLICY

Luxembourg's domestic economic policy is closely tied to developments in the EU because most of the country's trade and investments are with other EU states. ARBED, Luxembourg's principal steel making company, saw its profitability fall sharply in the 1970s with the worldwide decline in steel prices. The company was forced to eliminate many of its 27,000 workers. Through restructuring and specialization in customized metals, ARBED has bounced back into profitability, and is now Europe's third-largest steel company. Nevertheless, employment at the company remains low.

With the decline of the steel industry, the government sought to capitalize on Luxembourg's strengths in developing new and viable industries. The country enjoys a central location and high educational standards. Luxembourg's leaders decided in the 1970s to make a concerted effort to develop a service economy, concentrating upon finance, banking, and insurance. Juncker, as prime minister, continued this trend. Luxembourg has low taxes, by European standards, on bank accounts and mutual funds; this draws investments from wealthy but more heavily taxed neighbors, such as France and Germany.

Luxembourg has also had strong confidentiality laws to protect investors from inquiry about their holdings. For a period of time, the laws attracted money from drug cartels, which have sent money there in order to conceal its source, then reinvest it in legitimate enterprises. The Juncker government has supported changes in Luxembourg's confidentiality laws so that judicial investigators may learn the source of investments in order to prevent criminals from profiting by using the country's banking system.

Luxembourg's economy has adjusted from the difficult days of the 1970s to become one of Europe's strongest. Growth rates have been among the highest in the EU, averaging around 5% in 1998 and 1999. Unemployment was only 1.6%, the lowest in the EU. Its economy shifted from dependence on steel to an emphasis on services, notably finance and telecommunications. Luxembourg is now among the world's top 10 financial centers and the financial sector employs approximately 10% of the workforce (20,000 people) and accounts for around one-fifth of national income.

Some Luxembourgers believe that the country's economic wealth has led to an unwanted influx of foreign workers. The EU requires that each member state open its borders and employment to citizens of other EU states. The result has been that wealthy EU states, such as Luxembourg, attract workers from poor EU states where unemployment is high. Many of these workers take low-wage jobs and send their earnings back to their country of origin. There is little evidence as yet that they displace Luxemburgers from jobs. Nonetheless, the presence of large numbers of foreign workers--one estimate places the figure as high as 30% of the population in 1994--brings a clash of cultures. A challenge for the Juncker government will be to insure that native Luxemburgers and foreign workers live in harmony.

FOREIGN POLICY

The Juncker government has strongly endorsed the Maastricht Treaty's call for an EU common foreign and security policy. Luxembourg's armed forces are minimal. Nonetheless, it has endorsed the French-German effort to build a "Eurocorps," or nascent European army for the EU. Its support for the Eurocorps will be primarily through funding, rather than through supplying combat personnel. At the same time, Luxembourg remains a member of NATO, and allows other allies to maintain on its soil supply depots that would be of critical importance in time of conflict. Despite its small size, Luxembourg was among the few nations to send troops to the former Yugoslavia in the United Nations (UN) Protection Force. Although the EU remains at the core of Luxembourg's foreign policy, challenges to Luxembourg's influence in the EU are on the horizon. Ten new countries have been invited to join the EU in 2004, and voting procedures within the EU's governing institutions will likely change in order to prevent the organization from becoming unwieldy. Power may shift to the larger, more powerful, EU states. This could mean, for example, that the current practice of giving each country a veto over key decisions will be altered, a change that could adversely affect small states such as Luxembourg. As of 2003, maintaining Luxembourg's economic vitality and its political influence in EU councils was a primary task for the Juncker government.


PERSONAL INFORMATION
Addresses: Office: Office of the Prime Minister, Hotel de Bourgogne, 4, rue de la Congregation, 2910 Luxembourg.

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