In an extraordinary speech the EU Commission president said he would push for Ohio and Texas to split from the rest of America if the Republican president does not change his tune and become more supportive of the EU.
The remarks are diplomatic dynamite at a time when relations between Washington and Brussels are already strained over Europe’s meagre contributions to NATO and the US leader’s open preference for dealing with national governments.
A spokesman for the bloc later said that the remarks were not meant to be taken literally, but also tellingly did not try to pass them off as humorous and insisted the EU chief was making a serious comparison.
They are by far the most outspoken intervention any senior EU figure has made about Mr Trump and are likely to dismay some European leaders who were hoping to seek a policy of rapprochement with their most important ally.
Speaking at the centre-right European People Party’s (EPP) annual conference in Malta yesterday afternoon, the EU Commission boss did not hold back in his disdain for the White House chief’s eurosceptic views.
He said: “Brexit isn’t the end. A lot of people would like it that way, even people on another continent where the newly elected US President was happy that the Brexit was taking place and has asked other countries to do the same.
“If he goes on like that I am going to promote the independence of Ohio and Austin, Texas in the US.”
Mr Juncker’s comments did not appear to be made in jest and were delivered in a serious tone, although one journalist did report some “chuckles” in the audience and hinted the EU boss may have been joking. The remarks came in the middle of an angry speech in which the top eurocrat railed widely against critics of the EU Commission.
And reacting to the furore which followed them, EU Commission deputy chief spokesman Alexander Winterstein explained: “You will have seen that this is not the first time the President draws this analogy and I think he’s making a point that is as simple as it is valid.
“He does not suggest that certain states should secede from the United States and at the same time I think he considers it also not terribly appropriate for other heads of states to suggest that member states of the EU leave the EU. So I think that’s the comparison that he’s drawing.
The outburst will be seen as totally inexplicable at a time when EU-US relations appeared to be on the mend, with Vice-President Mike Pence having completed a largely successful trip to Brussels and the commander-in-chief himself significantly softening his tone towards the EU project.
Mr Juncker did not criticise Britain at all during his speech, and only made reference to Brexit in relation to Mr Trump and the opportunities it presents for Europe to reform itself.
He told the audience in Malta: “Brexit isn’t the end of everything. We must consider it to be a new beginning, something that is stronger, something that is better.”
Speaking before him, EU Council president Donald Tusk was less reserved in his remarks about the UK vote as he tore into the populist politics which led to Brexit.
The Polish eurocrat said the argument over sovereignty – epitomised by the Vote Leave slogan ‘take back control’ – was “a view that is both foolish and dangerous” and that the EU guaranteed countries’ strength of the world stage.
He also accused populist politicians, such as the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders and France’s Marine Le Pen, of promoting “organised hatred” with their views on immigration
However his conservative colleague Antonio Tajani, the EU Parliament president, received a rapturous ovation as he launched an impassioned defence of Europe’s “Christian values”.
In a series of thinly veiled comments about immigration, a major political issue in his homeland and Malta, the Italian official said Europe should do more to defend its historic identity.
He said: “We shouldn’t be ashamed of saying we’re Christian. We’re Christian, it is our history.
“If we leave our identity we will have in Europe all identities but not European identities. For this we need to strengthen our identity.
“It is impossible to win without identity, without our values. Of course we are different, many languages, many ideas, but we are united on the values and this is the most important content.”