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European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker gave a speech on the future of Europe in French today, saying this is because “English is losing importance” in the region.

The comments – which were met with applause during a conference of EU dignitaries in Italy – came after an extraordinary row between Downing Street and the commission over leaks of a private dinner. The British prime minister accused Mr Juncker’s aides of trying to interfere in the upcoming general election.

The Luxembourgish politician, who was introduced in English, said the other reason was to be heard by French audience on the eve of the French presidential election. “I would like them to understand what I am saying about Europe and nations,” Mr Juncker.

Earlier this week, representatives from the European Commission made clear that the institution does not interfere with domestic elections after the row with Downing Street. Donald Tusk, the leader of the European Council, had yesterday pleaded for both sides to avoid rash statements.

In his speech, Mr Juncker defended the euro’s record and warned that Brexit will not be a simple process.

“It is no small event,” said Mr Juncker. “We will negotiate with our British friends in full transparency. But there should be no doubt that the EU is not abandoning the UK; it is the opposite, they are abandoning the EU and this is a difference that will be felt over the next few years.”

Related:

Call for truce in Brexit war of words (May 4)

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