Wednesday

26th Jul 2017

Opinion

Juncker-Tusk: A clash of EU visions

  • Juncker (l) and Tusk: rifts between the two presidents are particularly worrying (Photo: Consillium)

On Wednesday (14 September), the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, delivered his annual state of the Union speech at the European parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg. Juncker took stock of the current, rather bleak, state of affairs in the EU and laid out the commission’s priorities for the next 12 months.

The state of the Union is a powerful instrument in Brussels politics. In his annual speech (often characterised as a Christmas tree) the commission president promises individual political groups in the parliament that he will push forward their projects in exchange for their support in the parliament’s work on the commission’s other initiatives.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The state of the Union also offers an opportunity for MEPs to comment on the commission’s performance and thus manifest their growing influence in EU policy-making.

But this year’s speech was somehow different from previous ones.

Juncker used his state of the Union to address the European Council president, Donald Tusk, and his fellow European leaders rather than MEPs gathered in Strasbourg.

It is no secret that Tusk and Juncker have clashed over how the EU should respond to EU’s mounting crises. The state of the Union offered Juncker yet another opportunity to put his two cents into this debate and to confront Tusk’s stance on the EU’s future.

Masters of the treaty

Donald Tusk thinks that member states are "masters of the treaty" and should provide political stimulus for the EU. The European Commission should - in his view - implement the member states’ decisions by means of legislative actions.

The European Council president believes that at a time of growing euroscepticism and populism the last thing Europe needs is assertive institutions which “impose” their priorities on member states.

But Juncker does not agree with this vision. He wants the commission to regain its right of initiative, which has been in decline ever since the sovereign debt crisis erupted.

Juncker thinks that European deliberations have been too-long dominated by national interests which have only boosted populism across the EU. He believes that a more political commission can help to address this problem rather than exacerbate it.

In his speech he condemned “petty envy between various institutions” and argued against re-nationalisation of European policy. He also announced that the commission will come up with ideas for the future of Europe in March 2017.

This runs up against Tusk’s idea that member states rather than EU institutions should be a driving force of any wider EU reform.

Rifts between the two presidents are particularly worrying as EU leaders are meeting in Bratislava to get ready for the Brexit negotiations, unprecedented in the EU’s history.

Leave weapons at the door

The European Commission backed by the European Parliament seems to be keen on using the exit talks to teach Britain a lesson; the European Council president understands, however, that this approach could be counterproductive and embolden eurosceptic forces.

Eurosceptics could argue that an autocratic EU is trying to punish Britain for a democratic decision.

All three of the main EU institutions have appointed Brexit negotiators, which has caused confusion among EU experts and in EU capitals over who will be in charge of the talks.

In his state of the Union, Juncker argued that Brexit will not lead to the EU’s break-up.

He is probably right that the EU will somehow survive this crisis. But the secret to a more positive EU future lies in a united EU front in the divorce talks. As both presidents go to Bratislava for discussions with 27 EU leaders (bar Britain), they should leave their knives at the door.

The commission’s passion for the EU’s fundamental principles and Tusk’s understanding of different concerns across member states could make a potent combination if they act together.

They could also make an explosive cocktail if they don't.

Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform in London. She works on the EU institutional architecture and on the British and Polish European policy

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.

Mr Juncker, be Bob the Builder

Now is the time for the EU commission president to accept the pact proposed by the European Parliament to uphold democracy and our fundamental rights, write six MEPs from five political groups.

EU 27 meet for 'moment of truth'

Tusk said in Bratislava it would be "easier than you expect" to heal the EU's divisions, but for some leaders the post-Brexit talks are a "moment of truth" for the Union.

Stronger EU-Egypt ties must not disregard human rights

The EU’s apparent willingness to water down its stance on human rights in Egypt could seriously compromise its credibility and have far-reaching consequences for its relations with other countries in the region.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  3. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  4. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  5. ECPAFood waste in the field can double without crop protection. #WithOrWithout #pesticides
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  7. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  8. Martens CentreWeeding out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  10. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Episode 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  11. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  12. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way

Latest News

  1. EU and Turkey fail to defuse tensions
  2. European law will apply 'for years' in the UK, says EU judge
  3. US votes to sanction EU firms in Russia project
  4. Journalists on trial highlight Turkey crackdown
  5. EU to give research tips on dual food quality
  6. Polish president's veto leaves uncertainties over next move
  7. EU Commission unmoved by Polish president's veto
  8. UK presses the Brexit pause button