On 14 September, the President of the European Commission delivers his State of the Union speech before the European Parliament.
Every year in September, the President of the European Commission delivers his State of the Union speech before the European Parliament. The speech sets out the Commission’s priorities and kick-starts the Parliament and Council’s work for the upcoming legislative year.
While last year’s speech came at the peak of the refugee crisis, this year it was the ominous cloud of Brexit which loomed large over President Juncker as he took to the stage in the European Parliament on 14 September.
Mr Juncker used his speech to set out the key challenges facing Europe and, although the UK was notable only by its absence from his speech (apart from his mention of Polish workers being attacked in Harlow), the President of the European Commission did tackle the issue of disunity head-on, striking a sombre chord from the beginning which resonated throughout:
“I stood here a year ago and I told you that the State of our Union was not good. I told you that there is not enough Europe in this Union. And that there is not enough Union in this Union. I am not going to stand here today and tell you that everything is now fine. It is not. Let us all be very honest in our diagnosis. Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis… Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our Union.”
The Commission President blamed a rise of “populism” for the growing rifts throughout the EU, which Mr Juncker seemingly addressed in a pejorative manner, whilst simultaneously paying lip service to the needs of the working man by addressing a plethora of matters, from the low cost of milk to the need to stand up for the EU’s steel industry.
Mr Juncker’s speech however addressed, in the main, the themes of Europe’s migrant crisis and the need to secure the EU’s external borders and terrorism.
On the issue of migration, Mr Juncker announced, “Today we are launching an ambitious Investment Plan for Africa and the Neighbourhood which has the potential to raise €44 billion in investments. It can go up to €88 billion if Member States pitch in. The new Investment Plan for Africa and the Neighbourhood will offer lifelines for those who would otherwise be pushed to take dangerous journeys in search of a better life.”
On counter-terrorism, Mr Juncker stressed the need to step up information exchange among national police authorities and proposed, as a consequence, strengthening Europol. He also announced a proposal for a European Defence Fund and noted the creation of an eponymously named €315 billion Investment Plan for Europe, joking that the title of the fund would ensure it is his responsibility if it fails.
Regarding the issue of strengthening the EU’s external borders, Mr Juncker confirmed, “We will defend our borders with the new European Border and Coast Guard. I want to see at least 200 extra border guards and 50 extra vehicles deployed at the Bulgarian external borders as of October.”
Mr Juncker concluded his speech by returning to the theme of disunity, stating that the Union, as such, is not at risk and also imparting on his audience that “Europe is a cord of many strands”, which only works when everyone pulls in the same direction.
Whether you believe Mr Juncker in his assertion that the Union is not at risk or whether you side with Ms Le Pen, who stated afterwards that the President of the Commission’s address was a “funeral for the European Union” the overriding message from Mr Juncker is clear - that in order to put the “U” back in the “EU”, he needs you