I still don't have a smartphone, admits EU's Juncker


Tallinn (AFP)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker admitted Friday that he had not yet joined the smartphone revolution, as he helped launch the EU presidency of digital-savvy Estonia.

"I shouldn't say but I have to say it, I still don't have a smartphone," the 62-year-old head of the EU's executive arm said at a news conference in the Baltic state's capital, Tallinn.

"So I couldn't become prime minister of Estonia, this would be totally impossible," Juncker said alongside a smiling Estonian premier Juri Ratas.

Estonia, one of the world's most digitally connected countries, said it would push digital issues as part of its six-month stint as president of the EU, which begins Saturday, despite urgent concerns such as Brexit and migration.

Public life in Estonia takes place almost exclusively online, from registering children for school to voting, a comfort with computing the tiny nation is eager to instill in other EU nations.

Juncker added that Ratas was aware of his lack of a smartphone, "which is why he sent me, like in the 19th century, a postcard inviting me to Tallinn."

Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, uses an old Nokia mobile phone, EU sources told AFP.

His admission comes 10 years after Apple introduced the iPhone and launched a global smartphone boom.

It puts him in good technophobic company among world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who still does not have a Twitter account.

But it stands in contrast with US President Donald Trump, a prolific Twitter user whose most recent outburst about a TV host's facelift sparked a backlash on Thursday.

Juncker spoke a day after attending an opening ceremony with Estonia's top officials and EU Council President Donald Tusk. Estonia, an EU member since 2004, has never held the presidency.

- 'Fifth freedom' -

Estonia said it would do its utmost to not let Brexit to upstage its presidency, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit minister David Davis set to be in talks throughout the six-month period.

"The discusssion of the EU's future will be more important than where Barnier and Davis have arrived in their rounds of talks," a senior Estonian official told reporters.

Ratas said he wanted the free flow of information to become the EU's "fifth fundamental freedom" -- after the freedom of movement for people, goods, capital and services, the pillars of the 28-nation bloc's single market.

Juncker said he counted on Estonia's "leadership" in the months ahead, including on migration, where EU countries are stuck in a stalemate over a mooted reform of asylum policy.

"Even without being a techie I know that our future is digital. Digital is the DNA of your country and it needs to become part of the European DNA," Juncker said.

But in the wake of a huge global cyberattack which spread from Ukraine to hit several countries this week, security was also a priority, he said.

"Success of the digital single market will also depend on the confidence of Europeans. That is why I hope we can learn from your experience on cybersecurity -- the scale of the risks is significant," Juncker said.

Estonia was the first state to be hit by a massive cyberattack, in 2007, which paralysed key corporate and government web services for days.

Estonia blamed Moscow, which denied the charge.