Europe must seize Brexit win­dow of op­por­tu­nity, says Juncker

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

STRASBOURG: Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker de­clared in a flag­ship speech yes­ter­day that “wind is back in Europe’s sails” af­ter last year’s shock Brexit vote, an act he warned Bri­tain would re­gret. In his an­nual State of the Union ad­dress, Juncker urged the bloc to seize a “win­dow of op­por­tu­nity” and use the mo­men­tum from its re­cent eco­nomic re­cov­ery to be­come more deeply in­te­grated than ever be­fore. De­fy­ing the euroscep­tic trends that drove Bri­tain to be­come the first coun­try to de­cide to leave the EU, Juncker out­lined a vi­sion of a big­ger eu­ro­zone and pass­port-free Schen­gen area, un­der the aegis of a sin­gle EU pres­i­dent.

The for­mer Lux­em­bourg prime min­is­ter also painted a pic­ture of a Europe that would sign new trade deals around the world, although he made no men­tion of any such pact with Bri­tain af­ter it jumps ship. “The wind is back in Europe’s sails,” Juncker told the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Strasbourg, in an un­re­pen­tantly fed­er­al­ist 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 called for the lead­ers of the re­main­ing 27 coun­tries to hold a spe­cial sum­mit in Ro­ma­nia on March 30, 2019 — the day af­ter Bri­tain’s depar­ture, to “sail away from the har­bor”.

‘You will re­gret it’

Juncker did not ut­ter the word “Brexit” un­til the very end of his 80-minute speech, say­ing only that “we will re­gret it”-and then adding “you will re­gret it too” when Bri­tish eu­roscep­tics in the cham­ber jeered him. “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”.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s of­fice said she had not watched the speech, but added that “the EU will of course want to make its plans go­ing for­ward” and that Bri­tain wanted a “suc­cess­ful and pros­per­ous Europe.”

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 Brexit. While he ad­mit­ted that when he gave his 2016 speech the EU was “bat­tered and bruised by a year that shook our very foun­da­tions”, this year he struck a far more op­ti­mistic tone. With all 28 EU coun­tries back in growth af­ter years of eco­nomic cri­sis, and the pop­ulist surge of Brexit and the elec­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at bay for now, Juncker said there were rea­sons to be cheer­ful. He 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 pro­posed a elected “sin­gle pres­i­dent” to lead the EU, merg­ing his job as head of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and the pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil of mem­ber states, cur­rently held by Don­ald Tusk. That idea ran into im­me­di­ate op­po­si­tion from Den­mark and the Nether­lands, while Tusk tweeted that the fo­cus should be on “real press­ing prob­lems.” More Europe

Juncker’s speech was full of calls for “more Europe”, es­pe­cially his sug­ges­tion that Bul­garia, Ro­ma­nia and Croa­tia should all fi­nally be­come full mem­bers of the Schen­gen zone. The eu­ro­zone should mean­while be ex­panded be­yond its cur­rent 19 coun­tries, in line with the EU’s treaties that say all states must join the sin­gle cur­rency, he said.

Juncker fur­ther­more backed French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s call for a pan-Euro­pean fi­nance min­is­ter to help fire­fight fu­ture crises, although he was against Macron’s pro­posal for a eu­ro­zone par­lia­ment. The calls for more in­te­gra­tion come de­spite the need to heal a deep­en­ing split with east­ern Euro­pean coun­tries that re­sist such plans. Juncker took a swipe at Poland and Hun­gary-which have been at odds with Brus­sels over demo­cratic stan­dards-say­ing EU coun­tries should not be al­lowed to breach the “rule of law”.

Turkey was also in his crosshairs 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 free de­tained jour­nal­ists. Juncker also at­tacked the “scan­dalous” con­di­tions for mi­grants in Libya, with which the EU is work­ing to try to stop Mediter­ranean cross­ings, and called for more sol­i­dar­ity with states like Italy that are on the front­line of Europe’s mi­gra­tion cri­sis. —AFP

STRASBOURG: Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker, left, kisses vi­cePres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Frans Tim­mer­mans be­fore de­liv­er­ing his State of the Union speech at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment in Strasbourg, east­ern France. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.