Hecklers and a Merkel mask: Juncker's eventful EU health check
By Eszter Zalan
"The bells toll," warned Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU Commission, in his much-anticipated first State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
There was no shortage of dramatic rhetoric, but no surprises in the substance of Juncker’s more than an hour-long trilingual speech, in which he laid down his team's plans to tackle the refugee crisis in Europe, unseen since the second world war.
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"There is not enough Europe in this Union, and there is not enough Union in this Union," said Juncker, summing up the diagnosis of the state of the union.
"The European Union is not in a good state," he said.
"Winter is approaching," warned Juncker, fearing for the lives of refugees stranded on the road and at train stations in sub-zero temperatures, shying away from a reference to the popular TV series "Game of Thrones", where "winter is coming" is a common phrase.
At one point, when Juncker was heckled from the Eurosceptic corner of the hemicycle, he fired back: "What you are saying is worthless." This retort was met by a mixture of boos and cheers.
Juncker's target appeared to be Nigel Farage, but the UK Independence Party later tweeted that in fact UKIP Scotland MEP David Coburn was in the line of fire.
Later on, Junker confessed to having one trait in common with Farage: humour.
During the debate, Farage said Britons would probably like Juncker as a person, but that if the Commission president thought that tweaking a few EU regulations would keep the UK in the EU, he was mistaken.
Farage did not mince his words on the Commission's migration plan, claiming that those who are coming to Europe are economic migrants and citing evidence that the so-called Islamic State uses the flood of people to "put jihadists on European soil."
"Europe must be mad, if it does not stop the boats," the UKIP MEP said.
A bizarre moment came when EP president Martin Schulz interrupted the never-ending Juncker speech because of an Italian MEP who put on a mask of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Gianluca Buonanno, member of Italy's right-wing Northern League party walked up to Juncker to shake his hand in front of puzzled MEPs trying to figure out what his message was.
One can only assume that Buonanno’s stunt was an indictment of Merkel’s migration policy.
Migration was on the mind of Manfred Weber, the leader of the conservative European People's Party group, when he alluded to Slovak statements on taking in only Christian refugees.
"We don't defend Christian rights, we defend human rights," Weber said.
During the debate, liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt blasted Hungary's treatment of migrants, calling it a "disgrace for Europe".
Green MEP Philippe Lamberts came up with a practical solution, proposing that the EP's Strasbourg building be given to migrants while sessions are held in Brussels instead.
The EP's Strasbourg building is empty for the vast majority of the year and despite calls from MEPs to stop the travelling circus to France, plenaries are still held there once a month.
The political show aside, EP president Martin Schulz and MEPs praised Juncker for making the speech and expressed their condolences to Juncker as his mother passed away on Sunday (6 September).