Mission to Kiev: Travelling with Juncker

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Media captionThe BBC's Katya Adler reports from Jean-Claude Juncker's motorcade

Our van careered over the cobblestones of Kiev, throwing us and our multiple electronic devices around its seatbelt-less interior like ragdolls with toys. Five journalists travelling with a president of the European Union.

We flew along behind the gleaming presidential motorcade, complete with screaming police sirens, heading for a summit with EU-hopeful, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The headline was familiar: Ukraine wants more EU support. The EU wants evidence of more Ukrainian reform.

Not new but important, nonetheless.

Especially in light of the mood music in the region - with an assertively nationalist Russia lowering next door and the conflict with Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Personal warmth

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Ukrainian president has called on the EU or the UN to deploy peacekeepers in the east

The EU will send a message that it cannot safeguard its own backyard if Ukraine fails as a state or Russia annexes any more of its territory.

By inviting a handful of journalists on his chartered jet - and to tail his motorcade - EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ensured that we focused in detail on the meeting. Though, of course, what we broadcast was up to us.

We saw the personal warmth between Mr Juncker and Mr Poroshenko, we were close enough to hear the Ukrainian president mutter that the EU Commission president must, absolutely, come back soon.

Mr Juncker's press advisers tell us he hates following a script.

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Media captionMr Juncker rules out "major treaty changes" with regards to freedom of movement, something David Cameron is hoping to be able to negotiate

There's a prior agreement on core messages, we are told, but then he takes over: in English here in Ukraine; in German with his staff; in French in EU speeches (he wants to fight to keep French as a dominant EU language). But apparently his native Luxemburgish dominates early in the morning.

Relations with Putin

On the plane back to Strasbourg, with its luxury interior (complete with leather-bound toilet seat), there is a sit-down chat with Mr Juncker.

Impossible on the way to Ukraine: he had wanted to read and prepare the last details of the visit.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Juncker would only say there were still big problems between the EU and Greece

Now he was visibly more relaxed. Ready to talk in a way we journalists never get to chat to a man in his position during press conferences.

He told us about his good relationship with Vladimir Putin and of the very real concern amongst Ukraine's leaders of a wider attack by Russia on Ukrainian territory.

Which EU issue was most pressing for him at the moment, I asked: Russia and security, Greece possibly falling out of the eurozone, or the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean?

"Migration," he answered firmly, with the humanitarian crisis making immediate action imperative.

But, he said he was unhappy with last week's emergency summit, lamenting the fact that EU leaders were influenced by what they thought their voters wanted and how strong a majority they had in their national parliament.

As well as tripling the budget and resources of the EU's maritime control mission, helping to rescue drowning migrants, Mr Juncker had wanted an agreement on legal migration and on quotas of refugees amongst EU countries.

He clearly didn't get it.

'Fair deal'

I then questioned the EU Commission president about Britain's role in the EU.

He wanted Britain to stay in, he said, but without imposing a European agenda that other countries disagreed with.

Treaty change could be possible, he conceded, though not on major issues such as freedom of movement in the EU. All in all, he said, he wanted Britain to get a fair deal.

He insisted that had been his opinion all along and expressed frustration that some in Britain gave the impression he had just recently changed his mind.

On this point, he said "the British government and press are not listening and are blind when others are speaking".

Mr Juncker then reeled off a hugely long list of EU meetings that he now had to attend in Strasbourg and, with a smile, he disappeared back into a huddle with his policy advisers.

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