Juncker’s speech: Wind in his sails or day­dream­ing


The wind is back in Europe’s sails.” That was European Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker’s mes­sage to a packed European Par­lia­ment. Af­ter com­ing in as chief of the com­mis­sion three years ago, Juncker was forced into cri­sis man­age­ment mode: The Greek fi­nan­cial cri­sis,the 2015 refugee cri­sis and Bri­tain’s de­ci­sion to leave the bloc prompted soul-search­ing in Brus­sels and Europe’s cap­i­tals.

Many were won­der­ing whether the union would hold to­gether. So this year’s speech was very much an op­por­tu­nity for Juncker to set out a more pos­i­tive, less gloomy vi­sion for the fu­ture of the bloc.

And lofty it was. Juncker called for all EU mem­ber states to adopt the euro and for a European ver­sion of the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF), as well as said that he is plan­ning to pro­pose the screen­ing of for­eign in­vest­ments orig­i­nat­ing from out­side the EU.

“Through thick and thin, I have never lost my love of Europe,” Juncker said in a speech full of pathos. But for now, it seems un­clear whether Juncker’s love will be re­cip­ro­cated. Pi­eter Cleppe’s ver­dict: “There is a lot of un­re­al­is­tic fed­er­al­ist day­dream­ing.”

Cleppe is head of the Brus­sels of­fice of Open Europe, a think­tank. “The speech was out of touch with what’s hap­pen­ing in many coun­tries,” he says, adding that while many peo­ple were not nec­es­sar­ily anti-EU, they feel that “the bloc has over­reached and the EU needs to be more hum­ble.”

Cleppe is equally scep­ti­cal about Juncker’s plans to carry out a ‘‘deep ex­am­i­na­tion” if a for­eign com­pany wants to buy a “strate­gic” business.

While Juncker did not men­tion China by name, the mea­sure would be a re­sponse to shared con­cerns in Ger­many, France and Italy that Chi­nese in­vest­ment in Europe dwarfs flow the other way.

The three coun­tries ap­plauded Juncker’s plans quickly: “The pro­pos­als of the European Com­mis­sion en­sure fair com­pe­ti­tion in the EU and also of­fer bet­ter pro­tec­tion against com­pany ac­qui­si­tions that do not com­ply with mar­ket rules,” Ger­man Eco­nomics Min­is­ter Brigitte Zy­pries said in a state­ment.

“We need to pre­vent other states from tak­ing ad­van­tage of our open­ness in or­der to push through their industrial pol­icy in­ter­ests,” she con­tin­ued.

For French Econ­omy Min­is­ter Bruno Le Maire, the pro­posal marks just the be­gin­ning. The pro­posal is an “im­por­tant first step to­wards fairer com­pe­ti­tion and a level play­ing field at a global level,” he said in a state­ment.

— Reuters

European Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Juncker ad­dresses the European Par­lia­ment dur­ing a de­bate on The State of the European Union in Stras­bourg, France.

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