Born 9 December 1954 in Rédange-sur-Attert in the western part of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker spent his childhood and adolesence at Belvaux in southern Luxembourg where his father worked in one of the big iron and steel factories. Life in this region, fief of the country’s socialist and communist movements with its high population of Italian and Portuguese immigrants, was to leave its mark on him and through his father’s trade union activities in the Luxembourg Christian Trade Union Confederation he quickly became acquainted with the realities of the workplace.
Having completed his secondary education at boarding school in Clairefontaine in Belgium, and having passed his baccalaureat exam at the Michel Rodange grammar school in Luxembourg in 1974, Jean-Claude Juncker enroled at the law faculty of Strasbourg University in 1975, where he studied for four years “without any enthusiasm” which did not, however, prevent him from graduating in law in 1979. In February 1980 he was sworn in but has never actually practised as a lawyer. It was also in Strasbourg that he first met his wife, Christiane Frising.
He had already been politically active in the Christian Social People’s Party since 1974 and had impressed the party leadership with his public-speaking skills and analytical mind when in October 1979 he was appointed as the party’s parliamentary secretary. His career rapidly took off at that point, and when in December 1982 a government post fell vacant the Finance Minister of the time, Jacques Santer, persuaded the Prime Minister, Pierre Werner, to appoint Jean-Claude Juncker, days before his 28th birthday, to the post of Secretary of State for Employment and Social Security, his two favourite policy spheres.
In June 1984, Jean-Claude Juncker won his first seat in the Luxembourg parliament (Chamber of Deputies). In the first government under Jacques Santer he held the posts of Minister of Employment and Minister of State for the Budget.
In 1985, Luxembourg took on the presidency of the Council of the European Communities and Jean-Claude Juncker was appointed to chair the Social Affairs and Budget Councils. This period also marks the start of his resolutely pro-European stance which is based on the firm belief that European integration is the only way of guaranteeing lasting peace in Europe and avoiding a repeat of past disasters and tragedies, which he himself knew all about insofar as his father had been forced to enrol with the German Wehrmacht in World War II and was sent to the Russian front.
After the June 1989 parliamentary elections, Jean-Claude Juncker embarked on a new step in his political career when he was appointed Minister of Finance and Minister of Employment. The finance portfolio is traditionally seen as a compulsory stage in the career of all future prime ministers of Luxembourg, and from that point on all the country’s political observers in the country came to see Jean-Claude Juncker as the natural successor to Jacques Santer.
It was also during the 1989-1994 legislature that Jean-Claude Juncker ultimately proved himself to be an outstanding politician and statesman both nationally and at European level. In 1991, as chair of the ECOFIN Council he was one of the main architects of the Treaty of Maastricht and was responsible in particular for drafting whole passages of the section on economic and monetary union. It was also he who came to the rescue in the EMU negotiations in May 1991 by thinking up the « opting out » principle for the United Kingdom. In February 1992 he was one of the signatories of the Treaty of Maastricht.
His career nearly came to a dramatic end, however, when, after a serious road accident in the autumn of 1989, he spent two weeks in a coma in intensive care. .
In 1992, in Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker started preparing the biggest fiscal reform in his country’s history. The reform itself came into force on 1 January 1993.
Between January 1990 and February 1995, Jean-Claude Juncker was also Chairman of the Christian Social People’s Party.
In June 1994 he was re-elected to parliament and kept his portfolios under Jacques Santer as Minister of Finance and Minister of Employment. Following Jacques Santers’ appointment by the European Council to President of the European Commission and his confirmation in this post by the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker was himself appointed Prime Minister, Minister of State, by the Grand-Duke Jean on 20 January 1995. Even as head of government he retained the posts of Minister of Finance, Minister of Employment, and Treasurer.
He broke new ground as Prime Minister by taking a bigger part in representing Luxembourg abroad. He carried out many official and working visits throughout the world and often took with him a sizeable financial delegation. He was responsible for stepping up political and economic ties with many countries and gave special importance to development cooperation with countries targeted by Luxembourg cooperation. By 2001 Luxembourg was one of the top five countries in terms of development cooperation, donating 0.8 per cent of its GDP.
In December Jean-Claude Juncker was heralded by the international press as the "hero of Dublin" when he succeeded in the tricky task of mediating between the German Federal Chancellor Kohl and the French President Chirac on the question of the stability pact in connection with economic and monetary union.
The next Luxembourg presidency of the European Council in the latter half of 1997 provided Jean-Claude Juncker with the opportunity to draw attention to his ambitions for a more social Europe. The extraordinary European Council on employment in November 1997 saw the start of the Luxembourg process requiring member states to submit a yearly action plan to promote employment and to comply with quantifiable and verifiable criteria relating to job creation and the battle against unemployment. A month later, at the European Council meeting in Luxembourg, the European Union opened its doors to enlargement towards the east. The same summit also saw the creation of the Euro 11, the informal group of finance ministers taking part in economic and monetary union and since renamed Eurogroup.
In June 1999, the Christian Social People’s Party came first again in the parliamentary elections and Jean-Claude Juncker, beating his own personal record, returned to power with a new government composed this time of representatives of the Christian Social People’s Party and the Democratic Party, thus bringing an end to 15 years of coalition government between the Christian Social People’s Party and the Socialist Workers’ Party. Jean-Claude Juncker also retained the Finance and Communications portfolios.
Since being Governor of the World Bank between 1989 and 1995, Jean-Claude Juncker has also been Governor of the International Monetary Fund and Governor of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (BERD).
On 6 July 2001 he was awarded the honorary title of doctor honoris causa by the philosophy department of the Westfalian Wilhelms-University in Münster, Germany.
On 5 February 2002, at the Elysée palace in Paris, he was decorated with the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour by the French President, Jacques Chirac.