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EU chief addresses audience in French, says English is losing its importance in Europe

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
Ints Kalnins | Reuters
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed an audience in French on Friday, claiming that the English language is losing its importance as tensions with the U.K. intensify.

"I'm hesitating between English and French," Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, which will hold talks with the U.K. over its decision to leave the EU on behalf of the other countries, told an audience in Italy.

"I made my choice. I will express myself in French because slowly but surely English is losing its importance in Europe and then the French will have elections next Sunday and I would like them to understand what I'm saying about Europe," he said.

There's been a tense exchange of words between Brussels and London over the last few days following a meeting between Juncker and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May last week. The British premier said she will be a "bloody difficult" woman in the upcoming negotiations and accused the EU of interfering with the U.K. general election in June. May also said that there are people in the European institution who want Brexit to fail.

Media reports suggested that the meeting between both leaders was a disaster, with a clear clash over key issues. President Jean-Claude Juncker allegedly left London "10 times more skeptical" than he was before after the meeting.

The war of words between Juncker and May has raised concerns among other EU officials. President Donald Tusk of the European Council, who represents the 27 heads of state, said on Twitter on Thursday afternoon: "Brexit talks difficult enough. If emotions get out of hand, they'll become impossible. Discretion, moderation and mutual respect needed."

Speaking in Italy Juncker added that Brexit is a "tragedy" and "not a small event."

"We will negotiate with our British friends in full transparency. But there should be no doubt whatsoever that the EU is not abandoning the U.K. It is the opposite, they are abandoning the EU and this is a difference that will be felt over the next few years," he said.

Official Brexit negotiations are expected to start after the election of a new U.K. government in June.

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