The Brussels boss insisted the decision by Britain to leave the bloc was not the end of the “European dream” and insisted Brexit can actually be used to strengthen integration within the union.
He used a speech marking the start of the Maltese presidency of the EU to call for greater cooperation between European countries and said people predicting the demise of the project were making a “major mistake”.
Malta, which has taken over the six-month rotating leadership of the bloc, will play a key role in shaping the early tone of Brexit talks after Theresa May triggers Article 50 in March.
The tiny former UK colony has cheesily branded its presidency ‘rEUnion’ and says it will focus on “a full-fledged philosophy of listening and working for the people”.
But eurocrats have already indicated they are not prepared to consider significant reform to the bloc despite its plummeting popularity, because changes could “augment current tensions” over the euro and migration.
Speaking in the Maltese capital of Valetta on Wednesday, Mr Juncker congratulated the EU’s smallest nation on securing the presidency of the bloc and bizarrely boasted: “You are a local winner, I am a global winner.”
And asked by one reporter – who said they had “never known the Brussels corridors so pessimistic” – about the future of the EU, he tried to paint his time as EU Commission president as successful.
He said: “I wanted – without being euro-enthusiastic or euro-fanatic, these are not really helpful behaviours – I wanted to bring the European integration to a point of no return.
“I wanted to play – how could I say – a constructive role.”
He described Brexit as a “deconstruction” of part of the European project and said the prospect of any country wanting to leave the EU was “not the perspective I had when I was becoming President of the European Commission”.
But he insisted: “Nevertheless, we have to explain to the outside world – if not to ourselves – that the leaving of Britain does not mean the end of the European integration and of the European dream and of the European project, that there are different issues where we can realise further progress despite the perspective of the leave of Britain.
“If we are considering the Brexit case as the beginning of the end, we would make a major mistake, and whenever in Europe major mistakes are made, things are turning in the wrong direction.”
Instead, Mr Juncker insisted, an upcoming summit in Rome to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the EU will present a chance to “bring together the best energies of the European nations” in response to Brexit.
European leaders will next meet at a summit in Valetta on February 3, where they are expected to come together to discuss the future of the EU project without Britain.
Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat insisted that they will “stick to the fundamentals” rather than seeking major changes to the bloc, adding that: “In the European values that have united us for 60 years, we can find the solutions to the genuine questions that our people are asking.