Viral video of stumbling Jean-Claude Juncker prompts questions

European Commission president was suffering from sciatica and was not drunk, spokesman says

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker suffered an acute sciatica attack affecting his ability to walk at a Nato summit event earlier this week, EU spokesperson Margaritis Schinas has said.


A “painful attack of sciatica accompanied by severe cramps” was responsible for images of a stumbling European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker at Wednesday’s Nato summit in Brussels, his spokesman has insisted.

Video footage of a very unsteady Mr Juncker lurching and then being helped into a wheelchair by Dutch and Portuguese leaders Mark Rutte and Antonio Costa went viral, prompting international headlines suggesting he was drunk.

Margueritas Schinas, the commission’s chief spokesman, on Friday pre-empted press queries at the midday briefing, denouncing the coverage as unfair and “tasteless headlines” made at the expense of Mr Juncker’s pain. “I don’t think this is elegant, I don’t think this is fair,” he said.

He said that the sciatica, which manifests as shooting pains in the leg, has recurred: “It comes and goes”.

The last time Mr Juncker suffered from an attack, he said, was when he spoke recently to the joint session of the Houses of the Oireachtas on June 21st and had to climb very steep stairs on his way in. “ I have some difficulties in walking. I am not drunk; I have sciatica. I would prefer to be drunk,” he told the Oireachtas session.

Mr Schinas said that Mr Juncker had taken unspecified “standard medication” on Wednesday and had recovered sufficiently and quickly to attend the dinner of leaders.

He was committed to a very busy programme of work which has not been altered. On Sunday he flies to China, Tuesday to Japan, Wednesday back to Brussels, and on Thursday to Spain. He will fly to Washington on the 25th to meet President Donald Trump. There are no plans for a doctor to accompany him, Mr Schinas said.

Asked if the president had mixed painkillers with alcohol, Mr Schinas replied, “No, not to my knowledge.” Nor, to his knowledge, did Mr Juncker intend to be operated on for the condition.

He rejected the suggestion that Mr Juncker was drunk as tasteless and said that he had not in any way been inhibited in his work.

It is not the first time that an unsteady Mr Juncker has been observed in public and it has been cited previously on a number of occasions by journalists as evidence of an overfondness for wine.

He has on two occasions recently spoken of the sciatica in response to press speculation that has tended to presume automatically, most notably in Britain, that he was under the weather.    

A spokesman for the German government said on Friday that it had a very high level of confidence in the 63-year-old commission president.