The European Union’s chief executive shared kisses and posed for selfies with young people on Thursday, in a live YouTube broadcast meant to soften his image as an ageing man shut away from Europe’s crises.
Sitting in a studio decked out as a colourful apartment, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker took questions from three German, French and Polish budding video stars, one with more than a million followers on YouTube.
Juncker admitted he had little interest in social media but denied he was above ordinary people.
“I’m not a movie star. Have I kissed you?” Juncker told his Polish interviewer. “Why not now?”, he said, standing up to kiss him on the cheek.
Juncker has faced accusations in European media that he drinks too much and, as a 61-year-old smoker, is in no shape to run an EU executive overseeing legislation affecting 500 million Europeans. A Twitter hashtag #AskJuncker set up for the broadcast was peppered with anti-EU comments.
Juncker denied he had a drinking problem in a separate interview with the French newspaper Liberation on Tuesday, saying he sometimes stumbles in public because of a car accident in the 1980s. The subject did not come up in the hour-long YouTube broadcast.
Wearing a purple tie, relaxed and sharing jokes in English, French and German, Juncker said was dealing with a range of issues, from the rise in militant attacks in Europe to corporate tax evasion.
He also spoke emotionally about his father, a veteran of the second world war who died this year. Juncker said young people needed to defend the idea of a united Europe.
“My father was obliged to serve in World War Two. He experienced the lack of Europe ... Today it is a question of the future (of Europe),” Juncker said to a question from YouTube celebrity Jonas, a 19-year-old German with more than a million followers on YouTube.