Tuesday

21st Feb 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.

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 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.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  2. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  3. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive
  4. Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes
  5. German nationalist leader met with Putin allies in Moscow
  6. German housing market overheated, says Bundesbank
  7. France invites three EU leaders for Versailles summit in March
  8. Greece agrees on new bailout reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  2. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  3. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  4. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  8. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  9. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  10. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  11. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  12. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"

Latest News

  1. Should Europeans spend more on defence?
  2. Dieselgate: EU disappointed with VW's treatment of customers
  3. French police raid Le Pen's party office
  4. The Armenia-Azerbaijan war: A refugee's story
  5. Greece and creditors break bailout deadlock
  6. Internal EU report exposes Libya turmoil
  7. EU commissioner condemns 'delay' in post-Dieselgate reform
  8. Sweden fights back as foreign leaders make up bad news