Donal O’Dono­van

Juncker has switched de­bate from EU’s fail­ures to its fu­ture

Irish Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Donal O’Dono­van Busi­ness Edi­tor

J EAN-CLAUDE Juncker has been cast as the bo­gey­man of Brexit, and he man­aged to set the teeth of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from Helsinki to Dublin on edge this week with a con­tro­ver­sial State of the Union speech to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

But he has also man­aged to dom­i­nate head­lines from the Black Sea coast to Co Done­gal’s Bloody Fore­land.

To­day’s in­ter­view with the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent, which took place as re­ac­tion to the speech was rolling in from all cor­ners of the con­ti­nent, pro­vides the first in­sight into Mr Juncker’s think­ing in set­ting out a vi­sion he al­ways knew would raise hack­les in many quar­ters.

In Ire­land, as ever, it was a push for com­mon tax rules that set alarm bells ring­ing. Brus­sels’s long-stand­ing drive for tax har­mon­i­sa­tion is seen as detri­men­tal to Ir­ish in­ter­ests – in par­tic­u­lar as the pre­ferred launch-pad for US multi­na­tion­als into the wider EU.

But a vet­eran po­lit­i­cal leader like Mr Juncker knows that. He knows full well that there’s no chance any gov­ern­ment here will bow to the idea of let­ting tax pol­icy be set by a ma­jor­ity of EU mem­bers.

Af­ter the gung-ho rhetoric on Wed­nes­day, his sub­tler lan­guage on the tax is­sue in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view with this news­pa­per to­day bears that out.

Even if tax wasn’t such a crit­i­cal is­sue for Ire­land, every shift from una­nim­ity at Euro­pean Coun­cil level to­wards qual­i­fied ma­jor­ity vot­ing on ma­jor is­sues risks mak­ing us as pe­riph­eral po­lit­i­cally as we are ge­o­graph­i­cally. Re­mem­ber, this is a Union that will soon have twice as many mem­ber states on shores of the Baltic as it does on the At­lantic.

Mr Juncker, a for­mer prime min­is­ter of Lux­em­bourg, is a wily po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor.

Be­fore his new-found com­mit­ment to cor­po­rate tax re­form, his home coun­try, on his watch, was a wel­com­ing haven for big cor­po­ra­tions want­ing small cor­po­rate tax bills. He knows the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of small coun­tries in a big union, but he is also a com­mit­ted Europhile at the helm of a deeply trou­bled union.

The eu­ro­zone – of which Mr Juncker was an ar­chi­tect – only just scrapped through the fi­nan­cial cri­sis.

Brus­sels failed to hold on to the Brits last year, can’t get to grips with the Mediter­ranean mi­grant cri­sis, and is pre­sid­ing over a rum­bling pop­ulist in­sur­gency that has barely been con­tained in France and the Nether­lands and may al­ready have been lost out­right in Poland and Hun­gary.

Faced with such deep ex­is­ten­tial threats, his speech should be seen less as a set of im­ple­mentable pol­icy pro­pos­als than a pitch to seize the nar­ra­tive back for Brus­sels.

The speech barely men­tioned Brexit – the big­gest set­back for the EU since 1956 – he in­stead seized on Europe’s be­lated re­turn to eco­nomic growth and then took the fight to the Union’s chal­lengers by dou­bling down on the drive for in­te­gra­tion on ev­ery­thing from cy­ber crime to the amount of fish in a fish-finger, and of course cor­po­ra­tion tax. U nlike in his Stras­bourg speech, it is clear from Mr Juncker’s be­hindthe-scenes com­ments to this news­pa­per that Brexit’s im­pact on Ire­land is a source of unique con­cern. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the usu­ally out­spo­ken Lux­em­bourger shifts to un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally

cau­tious lan­guage to even dis­cuss the Bor­der and the po­ten­tial im­pact on the peace process.

Since 2008, the Euro­pean de­bate has fo­cused on the Union’s fail­ings and short­com­ings. Bar where it was part of the emer­gency re­sponse to the cri­sis, around bank­ing and fi­nance, in­te­gra­tion has largely been parked. Mr Juncker wants it un-parked. In his State of the Union speech, the Com­mis­sion president ar­tic­u­lated his vi­sion of how the EU might move closer – com­mon cur­rency, com­mon de­fence, com­mon bor­der controls and com­mon taxes.

It is a one-size-fits-all fed­er­al­ism that would be a po­ten­tial dis­as­ter for Ire­land – but it’s a po­si­tion that he’s pre­pared to ar­tic­u­late and stand over. He knows he won’t win on every front, he may not even win on any, but he has man­aged in lit­tle more than a week to shift the de­bate from Europe’s fail­ures and how to man­age them to Europe’s fu­ture and how to achieve it.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.