Friday

24th Mar 2017

EUobserved

Juncker, a wise man lost in details

  • Juncker, the "old, smart fox" showed his skills - and his limits (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

"I'm as young as the European project," the 61-year old Jean-Claude Juncker said in Strasbourg on Wednesday (14 September) morning.

In his state of the Union speech, the European Commission president showed that he is indeed like today's EU: battered but still active, relevant but looking for a new purpose.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The speech was Juncker's come-back after a difficult summer marked by criticism over his sometimes erratic behaviour and calls for resignation.

The head of the self-proclaimed "political commission" seemed helpless after the Brexit vote in the UK. He appeared powerless to have his plans on migration implemented by member states, and sidelined by national leaders who said they would decide themselves what to do after Brexit.

But Juncker, who has spent more than half his life as politician, is an "old, smart fox," as one EU parliament source called him.

In front of the 751 MEPs he showed his skills - and his limits.

Firstly, he disciplined himself and delivered a 49-minute speech free from impromptus or cryptic jokes.


Secondly, he positioned himself as Europe's wise man, somewhere above the fray, looking down at the European situation, reminding people about EU values, and pronouncing judgement.

"I have witnessed several decades of EU integration," he said.

"Never before have I seen such little common ground between our member states. So few areas where they agree to work together … Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our union. We now have a very important choice to make”, he said.

He then presented his guidelines for future action:

"First of all, we should admit that we have many unresolved problems in Europe. There can be no doubt about this … Secondly, we should be aware that the world is watching us … Thirdly, we should recognise that we cannot solve all our problems with one more speech, or with one more summit," he said.

His summit comment was aimed as a jab at those EU leaders who think they can move ahead without the commission's help.

The wise-man Juncker also presented himself as a statesman with solutions.

"I am therefore proposing a positive agenda of concrete European actions for the next 12 months," he said, adding that the EU must "deliver" to protect Europeans, preserve their way of life, and empower them.

Christmas tree

Under the EU treaties, but also by political necessity, the commission is a machine for proposing new laws and projects. 


Juncker's political commission has reduced the number of legislative proposals but is keen on presenting concrete initiatives.

The EU executive chief used the speech to announce a raft of measures on digital industries, migration, capital markets, investment and defence, among others, that could, perhaps, have better been announced by his "team" of commissioners.

In a few minutes, he went from promising to equip "every European village and every city with free wireless internet access … by 2020”, to announcing the creation of a European Defence Fund, or the doubling of the commission's €315-billion investment plan.

In EU-speak, this is called a Christmas tree - a group of disparate items hung on the same frame, whose main purpose is to show people that politicians are doing something.

This is where the statesman and his vision got lost in details.

One of Juncker's main problems as commission president has been that his proposals, however right or justified, need other actors' support and participation to be implemented.

Plans to relocate asylum seekers is the most flagrant example, but other initiatives, for instance, on security or tax (because they depend on member states), and the investment plan (because it depends on the private sector) have also failed to live up to expectations.

Same trap

Is the European Commission president sure that installing free wifi in all cities the day after tomorrow is technically, politically, or economically feasible?

Is he sure that member states will supply the defence fund when some of them are not that enthusiastic about common defence?

Is he also sure that they will supply a newly announced investment fund for Africa, when they failed to give enough money to earlier funds for migrants and refugees?

Juncker on Wednesday tried to be both political (his vision) and practical (his projects).

But he risks falling into the same trap old trap of making promises that he can’t keep.

When he said "there is almost no intersection between the EU and its national capitals anymore,” one felt his conviction that national leaders should help the EU more.

But if he was betting that his come-back speech alone would mark a come back, he might well lose.

Juncker: EU 'not at risk' of disintegration

The EU Commission chief warned Europe is more divided than ever before, but that Brexit does not mean it is falling apart. He also promised free wifi, an EU army of sorts, and more investments.

Juncker's EU vision to focus on security

Juncker will aim to please southern states by talk of investment, and others by talk of deeper security cooperation in his first big speech since the Brexit vote.

Populists blame Juncker for 'same old' ideas

Mainstream parties defended Juncker's ideas on how to win back people's trust, but populists blamed the EU Comission chief for dishing up "more of the same".

Analysis

Juncker's unrealistic promise of free wifi

The commission president said "every European village and every city" will have public internet access in 2020, but the statement was not backed up by any legally binding target.

Opinion

Juncker-Tusk: A clash of EU visions

The EU commission president may be right that Brexit is not an existential challenge to the EU, but rifts with the EU council chief over how to handle the divorce talks may well be.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  2. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  3. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads
  4. ILGA-EuropeTime for a Reality Check on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  5. UNICEFHuman Cost to Refugee and Migrant Children Mounts Up One Year After EU-Turkey Deal
  6. Malta EU 2017Council Adopts New Rules to Improve Safety of Medical Devices
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Research: How to Reach 100 Percent Renewable Energy
  8. Party of European SocialistsWe Must Renew Europe for All Europeans
  9. MEP Tomáš ZdechovskýThe European Commission Has Failed in Its Fight Against Food Waste
  10. ILGA-EuropeEP Recognises Discrimination Faced by Trans & Intersex People
  11. Nordic Council of Ministers25 Nordic Bioeconomy Cases for Sustainable Change
  12. European Free AllianceSupporting Artur Mas: Democracy and Freedom Cannot Be Convicted

Latest News

  1. MEPs urge Juncker not to renew glyphosate licence
  2. Poland and Greece talk tough before Rome summit
  3. Birthday wishes to the European Union
  4. MEPs set out to give posted workers equal pay
  5. Hohe Cyber-Bedrohung für Frankreichs Wahlen
  6. 'No zero terror risk', EU security chief warns
  7. UN could step in where EU fails in child migrant protection
  8. May: London attacker was known to the police

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFSyria Conflict 6 Years On: Children's Suffering at Its Worst
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsDomestic Violence in Tajikistan: Time to Right the Wrongs
  3. European Trust SummitCorporate Strategy and Public Affairs in a Low-Trust World - Conference 31 May
  4. UNICEFNew Law in Hungary on Detention of Migrant Children Raises Alarm
  5. Malta EU 2017Agreement Reached to Involve Consumers in Financial Services Policymaking
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Cities Gather Against Violent Extremism & Introduce Nordic Safe Cities
  7. World VisionFears and Dreams of Syria's Children and Their Peers Around the World
  8. Malta EU 2017Maltese Presidency and EP Agree on Visa Liberalisation for Ukraine
  9. Mission of China to the EUEU Window Chinese Government Academic Scholarship 2017/18 - Apply Now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Lead the Way on Women's Economic Empowerment
  11. Center for Data InnovationBuilding Smart Cities for Tomorrow's Data Economy – 28 March - Brussels