Stras­bourg ‘Bri­tain will soon re­gret leav­ing,’ says Juncker

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Daniel Bof­fey Stras­bourg

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’

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