Business Day

Juncker stresses unity in the face of pop­ulism

- ALASTAIR MACDONALD and ROBIN EMMOTT Stras­bourg

THE pres­i­dent of the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, Jean-Claude Juncker, sought on Wed­nes­day to rally sup­port for the EU, say­ing that the bloc — bat­tered by the UK Brexit ref­er­en­dum — was not about to break up de­spite its ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis.

In set­ting out the com­mis­sion’s plans for the first time since the UK voted to exit the EU on June 23, Juncker high­lighted the Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum as a warn­ing that the EU faced a bat­tle for sur­vival against na­tion­al­ism in Europe.

“The EU doesn’t have enough union,” Juncker told the Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment in Stras­bourg. “There are splits out there and of­ten frag­men­ta­tion ex­ists .... That is leav­ing scope for gal­lop­ing pop­ulism,” he said.

But he un­der­lined that he be­lieved the world’s big­gest trade bloc was still an im­por­tant force. “The EU as such is not at risk,” he said.

Proof of that, Juncker said, was the suc­cess of a new Eu­ro­pean in­vest­ment fund that the former Lux­em­bourg premier pro­posed to dou­ble to €630bn by 2022 to help with a sharp de­cline in spend­ing since the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, help­ing projects from air­ports to broad­band net­works.

“Our Eu­ro­pean in­vest­ment fund will pro­vide a to­tal of at least €500bn of in­vest­ment by 2020, and will work to reach €630bn by 2022,” he said. “If mem­ber states con­trib­ute we can get there even faster.”

Juncker also wanted to ex­tend the fund to the pri­vate sec­tor in Africa to help curb em­i­gra­tion to Europe, start­ing with a pot of €44m, which could be dou­bled later.

An Africa fund is part of Juncker’s ef­forts to stress a more pos­i­tive agenda, par­tic­u­larly over the mi­gra­tion cri­sis that has deeply di­vided the EU. He had veiled crit­i­cism of east­ern Eu­ro­pean coun­tries un­will­ing to take in refugees from North Africa and the Mid­dle East. “Sol­i­dar­ity must come from the heart. It can­not be forced,” he said.

But his ad­dress of­fered few clues to the ne­go­ti­a­tions with Lon­don that the EU in­sists can­not be­gin un­til Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May for­mally sets off a two-year count­down to Bri­tish de­par­ture. Juncker urged that it be done quickly.

A sum­mit of 27 EU lead­ers in Bratislava on Fri­day is un­likely to shed much light on the is­sue.

In­stead, Juncker warned that the re­main­ing EU gov­ern­ments should nar­row their dif­fer­ences on ad­dress­ing many prob­lems fac­ing their economies and so­ci­eties, although he had no plans for a “United States of Europe”. Aides say he be­lieves the di­vi­sions are as great as he has known them in three decades at the heart of EU pol­i­tics.

“What are we in­still­ing in terms of val­ues in our chil­dren? Is this a union that has for­got­ten its past, has no vi­sion for the fu­ture? Our chil­dren de­serve bet­ter,” Juncker said, speak­ing of his fa­ther, who fought in the Sec­ond World War.

With Ger­many and France both fac­ing ma­jor elec­tions in the com­ing year, sig­nif­i­cant changes in the union are un­likely, but EU of­fi­cials are con­cerned that left-right po­lit­i­cal ten­sions over fis­cal pol­icy in the eu­ro­zone or di­vi­sions over tak­ing in refugees will jeop­ar­dise the co­he­sion of the bloc.

Juncker urged states to com­plete the set­ting up of a Eu­ro­pean Border and Coast Guard, a pro­ject driven by 2015’s chaotic ar­rival of more than 1-mil­lion mi­grants and refugees.

He pro­posed new co­op­er­a­tion among EU armies and pushed for an ac­cel­er­a­tion of cap­i­tal mar­kets union.

Claim­ing suc­cess in fos­ter­ing in­vest­ment by the ap­pli­ca­tion of seed cap­i­tal and guar­an­tees from the EU and na­tional gov­ern­ments, the com­mis­sion has put the Eu­ro­pean Fund for Strate­gic In­vest­ment at the heart of its eco­nomic pol­icy.

Set up in 2015 to run for three years un­til 2018 with a tar­get of mo­bil­is­ing €315bn of in­vest­ment, the cur­rent tar­get is based on €21bn of EU money be­ing lever­aged 15 times by other in­vestors. How­ever, as the EU’s cur­rent seven-year bud­get pro­gramme ends in 2020, the to­tal tar­get will rise to €500bn for five years and the com­mis­sion will call on mem­ber states to add to their con­tri­bu­tions.

Brus­sels says the fund could also serve to bol­ster in­ter­net con­nec­tiv­ity across the bloc.

“We pro­pose to equip every Eu­ro­pean city with wire­less in­ter­net,” Juncker said.

The EU doesn’t have enough union. There are splits out there and of­ten frag­men­ta­tion ex­ists

 ??  ?? Jean-Claude Juncke
Jean-Claude Juncke

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