Jean-Claude Juncker Outlines Vision to Win Back ‘Hearts and Minds’ of EU Citizens
In his State of the Union speech, European Commission President Juncker has praised the bloc for “bouncing back” after 10 years of crises. He has outlined bold proposals on EU trade, investment migration.
– European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has endorsed the creation of a Eurozone finance minister and a European monetary fund.
– The Commission chief has ruled out Turkish EU membership “in the foreseeable future.”
– Juncker has called on European states to help improve the “scandalous” conditions in Libyan migrant centers to prevent people fleeing Africa to Italy over the Mediterranean.
‘Wind back in Europe’s sails
Last year, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker had little to cheer about in his flagship address before the European Parliament. If anything, it was a call to stop the collapse EU.
Now, a year on from Brexit and with the economy on the upswing, Wednesday’s speech struck a far more optimistic note, as Juncker praised the bloc’s achievements over the last 12 months and laid out his vision for the bloc’s future.
“After 10 years of crises, economies are on the rise and the European Union is bouncing back” he said. “The wind is back in Europe’s sails, it now has a window of opportunity.”
On strengthening Europe’s trade program, Juncker said that, “Europe has always been an attractive partner to trade with, and now countries from all over the world are knocking on our door. Juncker cited last year’s trade agreement with Canada, CETA, and called on the bloc to conclude talks with Japan and Mexico by 2019. Juncker also said talks should also begin with Australia and New Zealand.
Protecting European businesses
The former Luxembourg prime minister also proposed regulatory reforms aimed at protecting European businesses from undesired foreign takeovers and investment. Under Juncker’s so-called investment screening proposal, any proposed takeover of “strategic EU assets” will be subject to strict criteria that must meet the values of the member state in question. That includes crucial state infrastructure – such as ports or airports – or firms dealing with security technology.
On migration, Juncker called for increased border security on Europe’s borders. Countries such as Greece and Italy should not bear the burden of protecting their borders, he said, before praising Italy’s perserverence and generosity in its handling of the Meditteranean crisis. “Italy’s saves Europe’s honor,” said Juncker.
However, to stem the flow of migrants Europe must collectively work to improve the “scandalous” conditions for migrants in Libya.
The European Commission would also outline a new migrant deportation policy by the end of the month, and called on states to step up sending back migrants who do not meet refugee protection status.
Key to that vision were proposed reforms Europe’s economic and monetary union, namely the creation of a eurozone finance minister, a eurozone budget and a European monetary fund.
Juncker’s proposal could be music to the ears of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been pushing for such eurozone reforms aimed at strengthening the currency. However, the proposal will likely be met with tepid reactions in Berlin, which has largely dismissed reform calls for the common currency.
Juncker also said it was the EU’s aim to see all member states, except for those which have already voted against it, adopt the euro currency once they meet the criteria.
A warning Poland and Hungary, a cold shoulder to Turkey
Juncker also addressed Brussels’ recent tensions with Poland and Hungary.
The governments of both countries have taken an illiberal turn in recent years. The Polish government’s decision to push through judicial reform allowing the government to elect Supreme Court judges has led the Commission to threaten invoking “Article 7” of the European Treaty, which would suspend Poland’s EU voting rights and even cut off EU funding.
“Those states who are not capable of democracy, are not worthy of Europe,” Juncker said.
That attack was also aimed at Turkey, which he accused of “creating ground for membership talks to fail” and “moving away from the European Union in leaps and bounds.”
Ankara’s attitude “rules out EU membership for Turkey in the foreseeable future,” the European Commission President said.