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26th May 2022

State of the Union: Juncker's 'big day'

  • Jean-Claude Juncker during his 2016 state of the union speech. (Photo: European Commission)

Since he took office in 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker has used the US-style State of the Union speech as a stage to set the EU agenda and enhance the influence of his self-proclaimed "political European Commission" in regard to the other EU institutions and the 28 member states.

So what should be expected from Juncker's third - and second to last - speech of this kind at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (13 September)? (Live streamed here)

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"This will be a big day. Stay tuned, it will be fully justified," the commission's chief spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, told journalists on Friday, following days of a communications campaign to announce the "Soteu" - the social media-friendly acronym for the state of the union speech.

A spokesman said that Juncker will try to "crystallise" the debate on the future of Europe.

"We are at an important political juncture … which offers a unique possibility for the president to remind us of things that have happened," the source added.

"There will be surprises," another commission source told EUobserver.

Juncker himself, speaking to the Politico website, said that "the 2017 speech is indeed more important than the 2018 one."

Several rumours have gone around about what could be so important, including one - not so new - that Juncker would announced his departure.

The latest rumour, posted on Twitter by journalists on Tuesday evening, while Juncker was admittedly applying the finishing touches to his speech, came from one of the EU parliament's main political leaders.

According to Gianni Pittella, the head of the Socialists and Democrats group, the second largest one in the parliament, Juncker will propose merging the position of president of the European Commission and the European Council, which is the gathering of EU heads of state and government.

The proposal would be a major change in the EU institutional machine, and would be much debated in Brussels and in the capitals, as the balance of power between EU and national leaders will be at stake.

More Schengen and more euro

In a meeting with the 28 deputy ambassadors to the EU, Juncker's head of cabinet, Martin Selmayr, did not mention that particular shock proposal, but he did give some indications about the speech's main points.

According to minutes of the meeting, leaked to the Open Europe think tank, Selmayr said that Juncker will call for "more Schengen", "more banking union", "more eurozone" and "a prospect for enlargement in 2025" - in particular for the Balkans.

After the migration crisis, maintaining the EU's free-travel area is a priority for the commission, which has tried to limit internal border checks while strengthening controls on the external borders.

In the wake of the financial crisis, Juncker and his commissioners in charge of the issues have called several times for achieving the economic and monetary union and to top it off with a real banking union.

After calls from the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, for a eurozone budget, a eurozone parliament and an EU finance minister, Juncker, who has sometimes expressed doubts over some aspects of these ideas, is anticipated on Wednesday to say clearly what he wants.

He is expected to back the creation of an EU finance minister.

Juncker is also expected to announce a mechanism to screen foreign investments in the EU, in order to protect companies in strategic sectors from being taken over by a foreign power. China is the main target of the mechanism.

Also regarding China, Juncker may mention how the EU can defend itself against cheap imports. But according to the Reuters news agency, the commission and the member states failed to agree on the issue ahead of the speech.

Rule of law

As head of a "political commission", Juncker will also give his views on the political situation inside the EU, more than a year after Brexit, and a few months after anti-EU presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was beaten in France.

Juncker is expected to send a warning to Poland and Hungary over the situation of the rule of law, but may not say whether the commission will trigger Article 7 to open a sanction procedure against Poland.

He will also most certainly warn that the situation in Turkey, with massive amounts of arrests after last year's failed coup, is bringing the country's EU accession process into question.

As the EU is coming back to its senses after what Juncker himself had called the "polycrisis", the general feeling is that he will now say the time for "a stronger Europe" has come and that EU leaders must deliver.

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