The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said in an interview to BBC aired on Friday, that he was sad about the UK referendum vote and Brexit, which he believes is a “failure and a tragedy.” But he reassured the UK that he is not in “a hostile mood when it comes to Britain. We will negotiate in a friendly way, a fair way, and we are not naïve.”

At the same time, in an interview to the Financial Times, he took a harder position, criticising Trump’s dangerous rhetoric of America first and destruction of the EU by enthusiastically embracing Brexit. 

Talking ahead of the EU’s 60th anniversary celebrations on Saturday and before Theresa May triggers Article 50 on 29 March, Juncker’s words offer a sense of clarity and reason, at a time where both sides, the EU and the UK, exhibit unbending and irreconcilable differences. 

Theresa May has decided not to attend the ceremonial event at Capitoline Hill in Rome since she considered it as not “appropriate”, especially when in 5 days she will be triggering Article 50. When Juncker was asked about May’s absence from Saturday’s EU celebrations, as being the elephant in the room, Juncker responded: “She is not an elephant. I like her as a person. I am deeply respecting the British people.”

Leaving the club and paying some bills

Juncker said that Britain’s EU exit bill will be “calculated scientifically.” But while this is not meant as a punishment, it would be settling some UK commitments. He explained: “There will be no sanctions no punishment. Nothing of that kind. But Britain has to know – and I suppose that the government does know it – we have to calculate scientifically what the British commitments were and then the bill has to be paid.”

He didn’t give away any concrete numbers, despite widespread speculation and opinion suggesting that the figure amounts to €60bn (£52bn), and involves infrastructure projects that the UK has promised to support financially, and pensions for EU officials during the period of the UK’s membership.

Juncker said: “It will be a bill reflecting former commitments by the British government and by the British parliament. There will be no sanctions, no punishment, nothing of that kind.”

Free movement

Juncker repeated the EU’s position on free movement and guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU: “I am strongly committed to preserving the rights of Europeans living in Britain and British people living on the European continent,” he said. “This is not about bargaining. This is about respecting human dignity.”

Juncker’s warning to Trump

In an interview to the Financial Times, Juncker took a hard stance against Trump, warning him about his anti-EU position and the naïve manner with which he’s encouraging other European countries to follow the example of the UK. Juncker said that breaking up the EU could trigger a war in the western Balkans.

Juncker commented on Trump’s negative rhetoric of America first and explained that the American president was simply uninterested in European affairs. 

He found Trump’s Brexit enthusiasm “annoying” and “surprising”. Juncker had also warned vice-president Mike Pence when he visited Brussels last month: 

“I told the vice-president, ‘Do not say that, do not invite others to leave, because if the European Union collapses, you will have a new war in the western Balkans.”

For Juncker, it’s important that countries in the region can join the EU: “If we leave them alone — Bosnia Herzegovina, Republika Srpska, Macedonia, Albania, all those countries — we will have war again.”

He also stressed that Brexit and the outstanding bill have created problems that no one had imagined before. He said: “People think [Brexit] is the end. No it is just the beginning.” Despite his softer attitude in the BBC interview, Juncker’s Financial Times interview was more confident, clear and strict, stressing the bill of €60bn and insinuating that Brexit is going to be a lengthy and arduous process. Even if this is conducted in a “friendly” manner.

But, he couldn’t resist criticising and laughing at Trump. Juncker jokingly explained that Trump doesn’t understand anything about Europe, or the European Union, since “He had Tusk [Donald Tusk, president of the European Council] on the phone and he thought it was me.” For Trump, it can only be America first. But, just maybe, Europe second, Mr President?