Sunday

22nd Jul 2018

EU countries cool on Juncker's ideas

  • In a personal speech, Juncker laid out his grand ideas for the EU in Strasbourg. (Photo: European Commission)

Member states reacted coolly to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's ambitious ideas outlined in his state of the union address on Wednesday (13 September).

The first cold shower came from the Danish prime minister.

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Lars Lokke Rasmussen dismissed Juncker's idea about a super-president - merging the presidencies of the European Commission and the European Council, which is currently led by the Polish politician, Donald Tusk.

Rasmussen tweeted: "#EUCO is important member state institution. Let's not mix roles and competences. Need @eucopresident as voice of member states".

The Dane likely echoed the sentiments of many leaders, who see the European Council president as someone to counter-balance the centralisation efforts by the EU commission.

"Agree w/ @JunckerEU time not for treaty changes. Must focus on essentials. No new grand projects or institutional discussions," he added.

Rasmussen did also voice support, backing Juncker's proposals on more robust EU trade.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte dismissed Juncker's grand ideas, telling journalists the commission chief is a "romantic".

"I am more of a: when you have visions, go see a doctor kind of guy," he quipped, using a quote from former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt.

Aside from the super-presidency, Juncker also proposed to have a eurozone finance and economy minister.

But instead of having the eurogroup president, currently Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, fill the role, the Luxembourg politician suggested that an EU commissioner should act as the eurozone finance minister.

Juncker secured some support for his eurozone ideas, and for his urging of non-euro member states to join the single currency by 2019.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Wednesday that Juncker's plan to build a closer EU based on an expanded eurozone was largely in line with Germany's vision for the bloc.

"It is good that he is putting pressure [to expand the euro zone] but the preconditions [for joining the euro zone] must be fulfilled," Schaeuble told the ARD broadcaster.

Austria's social democrat chancellor and conservative foreign minister sounded less enthusiastic.

Christian Kern on Thursday told ORF radio that there was no point in expanding the euro and passport-free Schengen zone as long as tax fraud, contracting work out to lower-cost eastern European firms, and breaches of limits for government debt had not been dealt with.

"If you like this is an expansion of the problems at the end of the day and not a plus in European cooperation. I think this concept is not thought through," Kern was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Austrian foreign affairs minister Sebastian Kurz, who will face Kern in parliamentary elections on 15 October, said that countries need to fulfil the conditions for public finances before they can join the euro, to avoid a scenario that happened in the case of Greece.

Juncker also proposed an "euro-accession instrument" to offer "technical and even financial assistance" to fulfil the euro criteria.

Germany, along with France and Italy also welcomed the proposal on an EU framework for screening foreign investments to protect sensitive European assets and technology.

Eastern welcome

Romania's president, Klaus Iohannis, welcomed Juncker's idea of holding a special EU summit in March 2019 - the day after Brexit - in Sibiu, Romania.

At that time, Romania will be holding the six-month Council of the EU presidency.

Slovenia's prime minister, in a nod to the country's ongoing border dispute with Croatia, praised Juncker's comments on the rule of law.

Miro Cerar tweeted: "I welcome #SOTEU2017 calling for stronger, more united #EU of values. @JunckerEU: "The rule of law is not optional in the EU. It is a must."

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka hailed the fact that Juncker called the dual-food quality unacceptable.

The commission president tried to reach out to eastern European partners by emphasising that selling lower quality food products in the eastern part of the bloc will not be tolerated.

"The result of the efforts of the Czech Republic and Slovakia and a good signal: Juncker clearly rejected the dual quality of food and discrimination of consumers in his state of the union speech," Sobotka tweeted.

"I am delighted that Juncker, in his report on the state of the Union, has supported the cohesion of the Eastern and Western member states as well as convergence within the EU," he added.

Slovakia's state secretary for EU affairs sounded enthusiastic about Juncker's speech, in sharp contrast to its Visegrad Four partner, Hungary.

Ivan Korcok tweeted: "Slovakia determined to support initiatives moving the #EU project ahead & those maintaining EU unity."

Hungary's foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, told Reuters, however, that his country will not relinquish any of its national sovereignty to the EU.

"I definitely do not share the approach … that [the] less sovereignty on the level of the member states, the stronger the EU will be. I think it is a dead end street," Szijjarto said, adding that the one area for which Hungary supports a common approach is defence.

Analysis

Juncker rules out exclusive eurozone

The EU Commission president said that he wants "a stronger Economic and Monetary Union" but ruled out any ideas that could create a separate group within the EU.

Focus

EU to beef up cybersecurity agency

The Commission's president proposed to set up a European Cybersecurity Agency. The EU already has an agency for Network and Information Security.

EU to step up migrant returns

After Juncker's state of the union speech, the EU Commission is set to propose many new measures on migration before the end of the year, with an emphasis on returns, legal routes, and "solidarity" with African states.

EU agency to fight election hacking

A new-model EU cybersecurity agency could help states defend their elections against "hybrid attacks", the Commission has said.

Analysis

Will Austria's presidency give EU a populist push?

As Sebastian Kurz's government takes over the helm of EU-policy making for the next six months, Austrian MEPs from opposing sides weigh in on the EU's youngest prime minister's possible influence on the continent's future.

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