Strasbourg ‘Britain will soon regret leaving,’ says Juncker
Jean-Claude Juncker declared the “wind is back in Europe’s sails” in an at times deeply personal State of the Union speech in which he gave his vision for the future of the EU after the UK makes its “tragic” departure in 2019.
The European commission president said he would always deeply lament the UK’s decision to leave the EU. “This will be a very sad and tragic moment in our history, we will always regret this,” he said, before responding to heckling from former Ukip leader Nigel Farage by retorting: “I think you will regret this soon, I might say.”
Calling for a special summit in Romania on 30 March 2019, the first day of an EU of 27 member states rather than 28, Juncker said he hoped the continent would “wake up” that day to a more unified bloc.
“We have to respect the will of the British people,” he said. “We are going to make progress. We will keep moving. We will move on because Brexit isn’t everything. It isn’t the future of Europe. It isn’t the be all and end all … On 30 March 2019, we will be a union of 27 and I suggest we prepare very well for that date.”
He added: “I have lived the European project through my entire life. I have fought for it, I have worked for it. I have been through good times, and I have been through bad times.
“I have been through thick and thin with the European Union and never have I lost my love for the European Union. As we all know there is no love without disappointment, or very rarely.”
Juncker’s annual address to the European parliament in Strasbourg was notably more upbeat about the future than his speech a year ago, with economic growth outstripping the US and unemployment at a nine-year low. The commission president and former prime minister of Luxembourg insisted the bloc should seize the moment to make widespread reforms. “As Mark Twain wrote, years from now we will be more disappointed by the things we did not do, than by the ones we did,” he said.
Juncker proposed more help for all EU countries to join the euro, so that it could be truly “the single currency of the European Union”, along with a wide range of institutional changes, including the widening of the Schengen area, in which passport-free travel is allowed.
He also put his weight behind calls for the European parliament seats previously held by British MEPs to be elected on a transnational basis.
Juncker added that the council should adopt qualified majority voting, rather than unanimity, on foreign policy issues and drive forward European defence. “By 2025 we need a fully fledged European defence union,” he said. “We need it. And Nato wants it.”
He also added that the EU would establish a European cybersecurity agency. “Cyber-attacks know no borders and no one is immune,” he said.
Juncker added that the EU would respond to the “collapse of the ambitions in the US” on climate change by stepping into the vacuum and ensuring that Europe protected the world. “Let’s catch the wind in our sails”, he told MEPs.
However, he ruled out Turkey’s accession to the EU in the “foreseeable future”, and condemned the country’s slide into authoritarianism under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“Turkey has been moving away from the European Union in leaps and bounds,” Juncker told MEPs. “Journalists belong in editorial offices amid a heated debate, and not in prison. I appeal today to the powers that be in Turkey: let our journalists go, and not just our journalists.”
Farage said: “All I can say is thank God we are leaving. You have learned nothing from Brexit. If you had given [David] Cameron concessions, particularly on immigration, the Brexit vote, I must admit, would never, never have happened.”
Jean-Claude Juncker: ‘I have been through thick and thin with the European Union and never have I lost my love for it’