Populists blame Juncker for 'same old' ideas
By Eszter Zalan
While mainstream parties in the European Parliament voiced support for the European Commission president's big speech, populists blamed Jean-Claude Juncker for calling for more integration.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the conservative European People’s Party - where Juncker hails from - endorsed his plan to double an EU investment fund, but warned against piling up more debt.
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Echoing Juncker’s address, he called for an end to "cheap populism" and urged national EU leaders to take more responsibility for the decisions that they commit to in Brussels.
Weber also suggested the EU should offer every young European an InterRail train ticket for their 18th birthday to help them to discover the continent.
Gianni Pitella, leader of the centre-left S&D group in the EP, was equally happy with Juncker.
Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt blamed populists for "preaching a false sense of security."
"That we can keep problems outside of our territory, walls and fences, I think it's wrong," he said.
Verhofstadt said global challenges can only be met by supranational policies. He gave the example of the financial crisis, where national jurisdictions were ill-equipped to fight fires in multinational lenders.
“We need European solutions, which does not mean abolishing national democracies, but complementing them," he said, adding that the EU could act as a "counterweight" to "uncontrolled globalisation".
But British Tory MEP Syed Kamall, the leader of the ECR group, said that the Brexit-type ”voices of discontent reach far beyond the English channel."
"If they are ignored, don’t be surprised if others follow," he said.
He criticised Juncker's speech for using the old mantra of more Europe in the face of a crisis.
"More, more, more, the more Europe you build, the more citizens feel detached. Dismissing voters’ concerns will drive people to populists," Kamall said, urging cooperation in place of integration.
He also called for an end to the "grand coalition" between the EPP and the S&D in parliament, saying it hampers debate.
"All I can say is, I'm glad we voted to leave," Nigel Farage from the UK Independence Party, a leading Brexiter, boasted in the EP debate following Juncker's speech.
He said the had EU drawn no lessons from the UK referendum by putting forward the "same recipe" for more integration. He called Juncker’s plan to deepen EU military cooperation a "dangerous idea".
Farage also called Verhofstadt an "EU nationalist" because of his federalist views and said the liberal leader's appointment as the EP’s lead Brexit negotiator was a "declaration of war” against London.
France's far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Juncker's speech was "like a funeral for the EU".
"You haven’t paid attention to people who want to retake their sovereignty and independence," said Le Pen, who is shaping up to be a leading contender in next year’s presidential election in France.
She said Brexit had broken a taboo.
She said the fact the UK had not suffered a financial “apocalypse”, as predicted by some, despite voting to leave showed that ”you can leave the EU and you can come out better.”
Le Pen also confirmed tat she will be campaigning for a referendum in France on EU membership.