Secrets and Lies in Luxembourg

Europe’s most secrecy-minded politician may be forced from office because he can’t keep a secret.

Such is the lot of Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, whose 18 years in office make him the European Union’s longest-serving leader and only remaining founding father of the euro who is still around.

Juncker’s coalition broke up yesterday, the victim of an espionage scandal. It started last November, when RTL radio reported that a specially rigged wristwatch was used to record a conversation between Juncker and Luxembourg’s top spook. (There are only about 1 million eyeballs in Luxembourg, but a few of them engage in prying for a living.)

The affair has a murky, never-to-be-resolved French aura to it, but the ironic thing is that it came to light in the first place. For in his prime, Juncker was unexcelled in the dark arts of political subterfuge. An ability to emit medieval-sounding legalistic circumlocutions in four languages helped.

The first sign he was losing his touch came in May 2011, when a hush-hush save-the-euro confab he organized at Luxembourg’s Senningen chateau leaked into the public domain. As the meeting was happening, he issued a denial that it was happening.

And now the spying caper, conveniently coinciding with the continent-wide uproar and faux umbrage over the excessive curiosity of the U.S. National Security Agency. True to form, Juncker denied responsibility, falling back on the mistakes-were-made defense. “I’m not saying I didn’t make any mistakes,” he told parliament yesterday. But, he added, the misdeeds of two or three secret operatives aren’t his “personal responsibility.”

How this bodes for Luxembourg’s early elections is anyone’s guess. His party is tipped to remain the strongest in parliament, but there is so much bad blood that the other parties may gang up on him. For now, his era is interrupted, not yet ended.

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