Euro­pean Com­mis­sion President calls for a more united, stronger and more demo­cratic EU

On 13 Septem­ber, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion President Jean­Claude Juncker laid out his thoughts for the year ahead dur­ing his muchawaited ad­dress to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment on the State of the Union (SOTEU).

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In a nut­shell, the SOTEU is an an­nual speech that takes stock of the EU‘s cur­rent po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic land­scape and also serves as an op­por­tu­nity to re­view the work of the Union over the past year, as well as to look ahead to the priorities of the com­ing year. It is fol­lowed by a de­bate dur­ing which the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment re­views the Com­mis­sion’s ob­jec­tives and achieve­ments.

In an in­ter­view with politico.eu ahead of SOTEU, President Juncker was quoted say­ing, “While I am not an in­te­gra­tion fa­natic, I am very much in favour of deep­en­ing the Euro­pean Union and at the same time re­spect­ing to the fullest ex­tent jus­ti­fied, na­tional in­ter­ests.” In the speech it­self, he called for “a more united, stronger and more demo­cratic Union” based on three prin­ci­ples: free­dom, equal­ity and the rule of law.

So what does he mean by ‘a more united Europe’? Dur­ing his speech, Juncker made a num­ber of con­crete pro­pos­als. One of these con­cerns the euro and the fact that not all EU Mem­ber States have joined the euro area.

He re­ferred to the obli­ga­tion that all Mem­ber States, apart from Swe­den and Den­mark, adopt the sin­gle cur­rency.

“Mem­ber States that want to join the euro must be able to do so,” he em­pha­sised, also propos­ing the cre­ation of a ‘Euro-ac­ces­sion In­stru­ment’, of­fer­ing tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to such coun­tries.

An­other is­sue which re­volves around in­te­gra­tion is the pro­tec­tion of the EU’s ex­ter­nal bor­ders. President Juncker spoke of the need “to open the Schen­gen area of free move­ment to Bul­garia and Ro­ma­nia im­me­di­ately”, whilst also al­low­ing Croa­tia to be­come a full Schen­gen mem­ber once it meets all the cri­te­ria.

He also spoke of the ur­gency of com­plet­ing the Bank­ing Union so that banks would be able to op­er­ate un­der the same rules and un­der the same su­per­vi­sion across the EU, as well as on the im­por­tance of reach­ing agree­ment on a Euro­pean Pil­lar of So­cial Rights “to avoid so­cial frag­men­ta­tion and so­cial dump­ing in Europe”.

Whilst ex­clud­ing any fur­ther en­large­ment of the EU dur­ing the term of the cur­rent Com­mis­sion, Juncker re­ferred to the need to main­tain a cred­i­ble en­large­ment per­spec­tive for the West­ern Balkans. He also ex­cluded the ac­ces­sion of Turkey in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Mr Juncker em­pha­sised the fact that the EU is a union based on val­ues. “Europe is more than just a sin­gle mar­ket. More than money, more than the euro. It was al­ways about val­ues.” It is in this con­text that he re­ferred to “the three prin­ci­ples that must al­ways an­chor our Union: free­dom, equal­ity and the rule of law” whilst propos­ing his own ‘sce­nario 6’. In March, in its White Pa­per on the Fu­ture of Europe, the Com­mis­sion had pro­posed five sce­nar­ios for what Europe could look like by 2025.

On free­dom, he said that all cit­i­zens should have the free­dom to speak their mind. Free­dom of speech, he said, can­not be taken for granted. He added that, “We need to fight for free­dom, it doesn’t just come about.”

Re­fer­ring to equal­ity, Juncker spoke about the im­por­tance of “equal­ity be­tween Mem­ber States”, “big and small, East and West, North and South” as well as to equal­ity of cit­i­zens stat­ing that there can be no sec­ond class cit­i­zens, no sec­ond class work­ers and no sec­ond class con­sumers.

He la­belled as un­ac­cept­able the fact that in 2017 there are still chil­dren dy­ing of dis­eases that should long have been erad­i­cated in Europe be­cause chil­dren do not have the same ac­cess to measles vac­cines across Europe. He also re­ferred to the set­ting up of a com­mon Labour Author­ity to en­sure that all EU rules on labour mobility are en­forced in a fair, sim­ple and ef­fec­tive way.

Re­fer­ring to the rule of law, the President of the Com­mis­sion stressed the im­por­tance that all Mem­ber States re­spect the judge­ments of the Court of Jus­tice of the Euro­pean Union adding that by un­der­min­ing the Court, Mem­ber States would ef­fec­tively be strip­ping cit­i­zens of their fun­da­men­tal rights.

Re­fer­ring to mi­gra­tion, Juncker spoke of the EU’s suc­cess in dras­ti­cally re­duc­ing the loss of life in the Mediter­ranean. Tak­ing um­brage over the state of mi­grant re­cep­tion cen­tres in Libya, he spoke of Europe’s col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity to put an end to this sit­u­a­tion.

He also re­ferred to the fact that Europe as a whole has con­tin­ued to show sol­i­dar­ity and men­tioned that in 2016, EU Mem­ber States re­set­tled or granted asy­lum to over 720,000 refugees. This is three times as much as the United States, Canada and Aus­tralia com­bined.

He em­pha­sised that those per­sons who did not have the right to stay in Europe should be sent back to their coun­tries of ori­gin whilst con­tin­u­ing to show sol­i­dar­ity with refugees who re­ally needed pro­tec­tion.

In his SOTEU, Juncker also spoke of the need to com­plete an En­ergy Union, a Se­cu­rity Union, a Cap­i­tal Mar­kets Union, a Bank­ing Union and a Dig­i­tal Sin­gle Mar­ket.

He re­ferred to the im­por­tance of strength­en­ing the EU’s trade agenda, mak­ing the Euro­pean in­dus­try stronger and more com­pet­i­tive, the EU be­com­ing a leader in the fight against cli­mate change, and keep­ing Euro­peans safe on­line.

Last but not least, President Juncker made a brief men­tion to Brexit, de­scrib­ing it as a very sad and tragic mo­ment.

The fact that the wind is back in Europe’s sails, as Mr Juncker put it, is a pos­i­tive fac­tor that may well bring about a more united, stronger and more demo­cratic union.

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