Juncker says EU has mojo back, pre­dicts Brexit ‘re­gret’

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD - Ma­rine Laouchez and Danny Kemp

EURO­PEAN Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker, in a flag­ship speech yes­ter­day, de­clared the “wind is back in Europe’s sails” af­ter last year’s shock Brexit vote, an act he in­sisted Bri­tain would re­gret.

In his an­nual State of the Union ad­dress, Juncker said the trou­bled bloc had be­come more united in the past 12 months and eco­nomic growth was pick­ing up.

The EU should seize the mo­men­tum to deepen in­te­gra­tion and sign new trade deals around the world, Juncker told the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

De­fy­ing eu­roscep­tics, the for­mer Lux­em­bourg premier called for more states to join the euro and the pass­port-free Schen­gen area and pro­posed a sin­gle EU pres­i­dent and fi­nance min­is­ter.

“The wind is back in Europe’s sails,” Juncker told MEPs in the French city of Strasbourg, in a speech that mixed English, French and Ger­man.

“We have now a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity but it will not stay open for­ever. Let us make the most of the mo­men­tum, catch the wind in our sails.”

Juncker did not ut­ter the word “Brexit” un­til the very end of his 80-minute speech, say­ing that “we will re­gret it, but you will re­gret it too”, earn­ing jeers from Bri­tish eu­roscep­tics in the cham­ber. “We will move for­ward – be­cause Brexit is not ev­ery­thing, be­cause Brexit is not the fu­ture of Europe,” the vet­eran politi­cian added.

Bri­tish euroscep­tic leader Nigel Farage, who is a Euro-MP, re­sponded to Juncker: “Thank God we’re leav­ing – you’ve learnt noth­ing from Brexit”.

The 62-year-old Juncker has two years left in of­fice as head of the EU’s pow­er­ful ex­ec­u­tive to en­sure that his legacy is not lim­ited to the depar­ture of one of the Euro­pean Union’s largest states.

He struck a far more op­ti­mistic tone than when he stood at the podium in Septem­ber 2016.

Juncker had ad­mit­ted then that “it was plain for all to see that our union was not in a good state, bat­tered and bruised by a year that shook our very foun­da­tions”.

With all 28 EU coun­tries back in growth af­ter years of eco­nomic cri­sis, and the rise of pop­ulism – af­ter Brexit and the elec­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump – ap­par­ently at bay for now, Juncker said there were rea­sons to be cheer­ful.

He called for the EU to hold a spe­cial sum­mit, in Ro­ma­nia, the day af­ter Bri­tain’s depar­ture on March 29, 2019 to “throw off the bow­lines, sail away from the har­bour”.

And while a fu­ture EU-UK trade deal re­mains a dis­tant prospect, Juncker called on the bloc to seal trade agree­ments with Aus­tralia and New Zealand by the end of his man­date, and push for pacts with Mex­ico and South Amer­i­can coun­tries.

Juncker called for an elected “sin­gle pres­i­dent” to lead the EU, merg­ing his job as head of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the bloc’s ex­ec­u­tive arm, and the pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil of mem­ber states, cur­rently held by Don­ald Tusk.

Turkey was in his crosshairs dur­ing the ad­dress as he ruled out EU mem­ber­ship “for the fore­see­able fu­ture” be­cause of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan’s post-coup at­tempt crack­down, and urged Ankara to “let our jour­nal­ists go” fol­low­ing the de­ten­tion of sev­eral Euro­pean re­porters.

PA­TRICK HERTZOG/AFP

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker (left) kisses vice Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Frans Tim­mer­mans be­fore de­liv­er­ing his State of the Union speech at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Strasbourg, France, yes­ter­day.

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