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23rd Feb 2024

Juncker calls for 'global' Europe

  • Jean-Claude Juncker delivering his final state of the union speech before the European elections next May (Photo: European Parliament)

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe needs to show more leadership in the Trump-era, where American power is retreating from the world stage.

Juncker told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday (12 September) - in his last annual state of the union speech ahead of European elections next May - that "the geopolitical situation makes this Europe's hour", and it is time "Europe took its destiny into its own hands".

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Juncker said the EU needs to shape global affairs, and called for a "European sovereignty" on the world stage, but one which, he added, would not replace national sovereignty.

"Europe can no longer be a spectator or a mere commentator of international events. Europe must be an active player, an architect of tomorrow's world," he said.

The outgoing commission president said the EU executive would therefore propose to make some foreign policy decisions by a qualified majority of member states, instead of unanimity.

"There is strong demand for Europe throughout the world. To meet such high demand, Europe will have to speak with one voice on the world stage," he said.

"It is not right that one member state was able to hold the renewal of our arms embargo on Belarus to ransom, or that sanctions on Venezuela were delayed for months when unanimity could not be reached," the former Luxembourg prime minister added.

Juncker also talked about strengthening the EU's common defence capabilities in an effort to boost Europe's ability to stand on its own in the world. The commission will also roll out new rules to harmonise the prosecution of terrorists, and fight money-laundering more effectively.

Jucker's commission will also propose new rules to better protect the upcoming EU elections from outside manipulation - amid fears Russia has been interfering in elections in Europe and the US.

The EU executive wants to bolster the EU's standing as a trading superpower as the US under president Donald Trump has been withdrawing from or undermining trade deals with Canada, Mexico, and Asian countries, meaning the EU is now seen as a key defender of the multilateral world order.

In July, Juncker met with US president Donald Trump to calm a transatlantic tariff war, which won him praise. In his speech, Juncker criticised the US administration for its "selfish unilateralism".

Juncker wants to ratify the EU-Japan free trade deal by next March. He also said the EU needs to step up investment in Africa, and strive for a trade deal with the continent's nations as well.

He said the EU already has trade agreements with 70 countries around the world, covering 40 percent of the world's GDP.

"If Europe were to unite all the political, economic and military might of its nations, its role in the world could be strengthened," he added.

Stronger euro?

Juncker also called for the strengthening of the euro as a global currency, a challenge to the dollar as the world's leading currency, as part of efforts to bolster the EU's standing in the world.

"We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene," Juncker said.

"It is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill, worth €300bn a year, in US dollars when only roughly two percent of our energy imports come from the United States. It is absurd that European companies buy European planes in dollars instead of euros," he added, saying the EU's monetary union needs to be strengthened.

Rising nationalism

Juncker, who said he has a love affair with Europe that will never end, also sounded the alarm about nationalism in his farewell speech on the future of Europe.

He said he believed Europe is at the "brink of another catastrophe", after recalling the unexpected escalation to the first world war.

"Let us show the European Union a bit more respect. Let us stop dragging its name through the mud and start defending our communal way of life more," he said.

"We should embrace the kind of patriotism that is used for good, and never against others. We should reject the kind of exaggerated nationalism that projects hate and destroys all in its path," Juncker warned.

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