The EU Commission published a press release and issued a statement to the world’s media insisting the bloc’s chief did not mean to imply that countries will be forced to adopt the currency.
His remarks had prompted a largely negative reaction in the German press, where voters fear getting sucked into another Greek-style bailout if poorer countries are fast-tracked into the eurozone.
The furore could not have come at a more delicate time, with the comments generating a slew of front pages just days before Angela Merkel seeks re-election on a pro-EU platform.
In his State of the Union address Mr Juncker said the euro was “destined to be the common currency of the entire EU” and that all member states were “duty bound to join the euro area as soon as they’ve met the conditions”.
He also announced he would be setting up a “euro accession instrument” which would provide countries with “technical and financial assistance” to help speed up the process.
His comments provoked a firestorm in the German media, where the ‘help’ on hand was widely interpreted as a transparent threat to force member states to sign up against their will.
The German tabloid Bild, which is the country’s biggest selling newspaper and is reputedly feared by eurocrats, led its coverage of the speech on the remarks which it said would go down badly in Berlin.
It quoted Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democratic Party which is set to enter coalition with Mrs Merkel, who said: “Prior to the expansion of the euro zone, its stabilisation has to take place.”
Meanwhile Die Welt, which splashed on Mr Juncker’s remarks, carried an inside opinion piece calling them “completely absurd” and saying: “his central suggestion sounds more like a horror scenario”.
And Süddeutsche Zeitung, which also carried a front page on the issue, featured a column which said his comments had been a “terrible shock” and questioned whether they would boost support for the far-right, anti-euro Alternative fur Deutschland.
Much of the coverage in Germany focussed around the issue of whether the Commission would cut corners so that non-euro member states, like Romania and Bulgaria, could be fast-tracked into the Single Currency.
That was what happened with Greece and, given that Berlin and its taxpayers have largely been on the hook for that country’s bailouts ever since, it is a hugely sensitive topic to them.
At a briefing in Brussels today Mr Juncker’s chief spokesman, Margaritis Chinas, took the highly unusual step of issuing a formal, on the record clarification of Mr Juncker’s comments.
He told reporters: “We want to clarify certain reports that we saw here and there regarding the President’sState of the Union proposal to facilitate and support the accession into the eurozone of all member states who have the possibility to do so.
“The President was very clear that nobody has the intention of forcing countries to join the euro if they’re not willing or able to do so. We stand willing to support this process but all candidates will have to meet the accession criteria and there will be no shortcuts in this process.”
The EU Commission’s press team is regularly asked by reporters to clarify Mr Juncker’s remarks. Its stock response is that the Brussels boss “speaks for himself” and that it is not there to “interpret” for him.
Simultaneously the Commission published a press release on its website carrying comments Mr Juncker made in a YouTube interview yesterday, in which he denied saying he would force countries to join the euro.
In the live broadcast he had said: “I have no intention of forcing countries to join the euro if they are not willing or not able to do so. So, many of the headlines in the national German press are somewhat exaggerated.”
In his State of the Union address on Wednesday, Mr Juncker said on the issue: “If we want the euro to unite our continent rather than dividing it then it needs to be more than just a currency of a select group of countries.
“The euro is destined to be the common currency of the entire EU. All but two member states are duty bound to join the euro area as soon as they’ve met the conditions.
“For that to be possible these member states need the support of a euro accession instrument which I propose here today which will offer pre-accession assistance in technical and financial form.”