Juncker: Opportunity to Reform the European Union

Jean-Claude Juncker State of the Union 2017 (Photo by MATHIEU CUGNOT/EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock )

“The wind is back in Europe’s sails”, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said in his annual state of the union address.

He told the European Parliament there was a “window of opportunity” to build a stronger, more united union – but it “wouldn’t stay open forever”. He said Europe’s economy was “bouncing back” and the EU had to move beyond Brexit, calling for the union to embrace reforms and forge new trade deals. Trade talks should open with Australia and New Zealand, he said, and be completed by late 2019. European Commission President argued that recent existential threats to the European Union, posed by Brexit, the migrant crisis and the rise of populism, had receded.

His speech lasted just over an hour, in English, French and German. He praised Europe’s progress on migration, saying it protected its external borders in a more efficient manner, and he highlighted Italy’s contribution. Work needs to be done opening legal migration routes and ending “scandalous” conditions in Libya, Juncker said. Europe had to pursue a credible enlargement project to the countries of the Western Balkans, and there is a possibility of more countries joining the Union in the future, he added not signaling any timelines.

Addressing the UK on its decision to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, he said that the EU will always regret this” and, departing from his script, he added “and I think you will regret it soon, too”. He called for a summit in Romania on 30 March 2019 for decisions to be taken on a “more united, stronger and democratic Europe”. Juncker looked forward to a European Union beyond Brexit where membership of the banking union, eurozone and the Schengen border-free zone would be standard.

Juncker called for his own role of Commission president to be merged with that of the Council president. But he added that this proposal did not target in any way the work of Donald Tusk – the current incumbent. The Commission leader also proposed the creation of a Europe-wide finance minister, enabling deeper integration of the eurozone. He singled out Turkey, accusing its leaders of distancing their country from the EU, and insisting the government in Ankara stop personal attacks on European leaders.

“Stop calling our leaders fascists and Nazis!” Juncker demanded, to applause from the assembly.

(BBC, Reuters)

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