Tuesday

26th Sep 2017

Juncker: EU 'not at risk' of disintegration

  • Juncker warned of "never before seen fragmentation" within the EU (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU is “not at risk” of disintegration after the Brexit vote, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in a major policy speech on Wednesday (14 September) in Strasbourg.

But he warned that the EU is, to some extent, facing an existential crisis.

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“Never before have I seen such little common ground between our member states, so few areas where they agree to work together,” Juncker told MEPs in his annual state of the union address.

“Never before have I seen so much fragmentation,” he said.

Juncker warned that the fragmentation between leaves room for populism. “Populism doesn’t solve problems, it creates them,” he said, adding that the commission does not want to get rid of nation states.

“Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralysed by the risk of defeat in the next elections,” he said.

He acknowledged that EU institutions and member states are out of sync.

“There is almost no intersection between the EU and its national capitals anymore,” he added, while calling on each of the 27 EU leaders to think of three reasons why the EU is needed before they meet for an informal summit in Bratislava on Friday.

He also called on leaders to defend the decisions they take in Brussels at home, and not blame the EU for them.

“We need to speak in a committed way about Europe in national parliaments too, not only here,” he said.

Brexit

Juncker urged the UK once again to trigger the exit talks as quickly as possible, but warned that access to the single market is conditionned to allowing free movement of people and goods.

"We respect and at the same time regret the UK decision, but the European Union as such is not at risk," Juncker told MEPs.

“There can be no single market a la carte,” he said.

In his second state of the union speech, Juncker, referring to his own speech from a year ago, said: “The EU still doesn’t have enough union in it.”

EU army

Juncker called for a common European military force that would cooperate with Nato.

“It doesn’t mean less transatlantic cooperation,” Juncker said, adding that a defense fund would be proposed by the end of the year to encourage innovation in the European defense industry.

Speaking from notes and starting in German, Juncker called for an EU foreign minister and a strategy for Syria. He also argued the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, should have a seat at the table in negotiations on Syria’s future.

He announced an investment plan, for Africa which is to raise € 44 billion to tackle root causes of migration.

Borders

“The next 12 months are decisive if we want to reunite our union, if we want to overcome division between east and west", warned Juncker in his address.

Talking about the refugee crisis, and referring to reluctant member states, which have not taken in migrants, he said “solidarity must be given voluntarily, it must come from the heart, it cannot be forced.”

He called on the Slovak presidency of the EU to bridge the gap between member states which are participating in relocation and resettlement of refugees and which are not.

He pledged 200 border guards and 50 vehicles to Bulgaria to help protect the EU’s external border.

Juncker also said the commission will propose by November a European information system, that will automatically determine who should be allowed to travel into Europe before they leave home.

Investments

He also announced the doubling of an earlier investment plan to stimulate growth and job creation.

The €315 billion investment plan has raised €116 billion and 200,000 firms got loans. The fund should be beefed up to €500 billion by 2020 and € 630 billion by 2022, he said.

In a surprise move, he called for free public internet in all European cities by 2020, and promised a new proposal on roaming next week, after he withdrew an earlier proposal by the commission only last week.

Juncker also called for a more social Europe. In that context he defended the commission’s proposal on posted workers, in essence securing equal pay for eastern European workers in western Europe, which is opposed by almost a dozen member states.

Trade

“We should be aware that the world is watching us,” he warned.

He expressed full support for continuing closing and negotiating trade deals, especially the deal with Canada due to be signed this October.

“I am very much behind CETA, which us the best and most progressive trade deal we have ever entered into,” he said.

He did not mention the controversial free-trade talks with the US, but he pledged to protect the European steel industry from Chinese dumping.

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.

Analysis

Merkel's win heralds uncertain time

On Sunday, Germans elected Angela Merkel for her fourth term in office. However, she may be facing her most difficult period yet as chancellor.

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