EU Commission president Jean-Claude Junker: Never before has there been so little EU unity

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Junker’s state of the union address calls for us all to take responsibility for building a Europe of which our children can be proud. This is his edited speech.

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.

Over the summer, I listened carefully to members of this parliament, to government representatives, to many national parliamentarians and to the ordinary Europeans who shared their thoughts with me.

I have witnessed several decades of EU integration. There were many strong moments. Of course, there were many difficult times too, and times of crisis.

But never before have I seen such little common ground between our member states. So few areas where they agree to work together.

Never before have I heard so many leaders speak only of their domestic problems, with Europe mentioned only in passing, if at all.

Never before have I seen representatives of the EU institutions setting very different priorities, sometimes in direct opposition to national governments and national parliaments. It is as if there is almost no intersection between the EU and its national capitals anymore.

Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralysed by the risk of defeat in the next elections.

Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our union.

We now have a very important choice to make.

Do we give in to a very natural feeling of frustration? Do we allow ourselves to become collectively depressed? Do we want to let our union unravel before our eyes?

Or do we say: Is this not the time to pull ourselves together? Is this not the time to roll up our sleeves and double, triple our efforts? Is this not the time when Europe needs more determined leadership than ever, rather than politicians abandoning ship?

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU ‘still does not have enough union’ and that the bloc still needs more united action to move forward in the face of widespread opposition to more centralised powers. Picture: AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias
EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU ‘still does not have enough union’ and that the bloc still needs more united action to move forward in the face of widespread opposition to more centralised powers. Picture: AP Photo/Jean Francois Badias

Our reflections on the state of the union must start with a sense of realism and with great honesty.

First of all, we should admit that we have many unresolved problems in Europe. There can be no doubt about this.

From high unemployment and social inequality, to mountains of public debt, to the huge challenge of integrating refugees, to the very real threats to our security at home and abroad — every one of Europe’s member states has been affected by the continuing crises of our times.

We are even faced with the unhappy prospect of a member leaving our ranks.

Secondly, we should be aware that the world is watching us.

Thirdly, we should recognise that we cannot solve all our problems with one more speech. Or with one more summit.

Europe can only work if we all work for unity and commonality, and forget the rivalry between competences and institutions. Only then will Europe be more than the sum of its parts. And only then can Europe be stronger and better than it is today. Only then will leaders of the EU institutions and national governments be able to regain the trust of Europe’s citizens in our common project.

Because I believe the next 12 months are decisive if we want to reunite our union. If we want to overcome the tragic divisions between east and west which have opened up in recent months. If we want to show that we can be fast and decisive on the things that really matter. If we want to show to the world that Europe is still a force capable of joint action.

We have to get to work.

I sent a letter with this message to president [of the European Parliament, Martin] Schulz and [Slovakian] prime minister [Robert] Fico this morning.

The next 12 months are the crucial time to deliver a better Europe:

  • a Europe that protects
  • a Europe that preserves the European way of life
  • a Europe that empowers our citizens
  • a Europe that defends at home and abroad
  • a Europe that takes responsibility

A EUROPE THAT PRESERVES OUR WAY OF LIFE

An integral part of our European way of life is our values.

The values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law. Values fought for on battlefields and soapboxes over centuries.

We Europeans also believe in independent, effective justice systems. Independent courts keep governments, companies and people in check. Effective justice systems support economic growth and defend fundamental rights. That is why Europe promotes and defends the rule of law.

Being European also means being open and trading with our neighbours, instead of going to war with them. It means being the world’s biggest trading bloc, with trade agreements in place or under negotiation with over 140 partners across the globe.

Being European also means a fair playing field.

Europe is not the Wild West, but a social market economy.

A fair playing field also means that in Europe, consumers are protected against cartels and abuses by powerful companies. And that every company, no matter how big or small, has to pay its taxes where it makes its profits.

This goes for giants like Apple too, even if their market value is higher than the GDP of 165 countries in the world. In Europe we do not accept powerful companies getting illegal backroom deals on their taxes.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Junker: Never before has there been so little EU unity

The level of taxation in a country like Ireland is not our issue. Ireland has the sovereign right to set the tax level wherever it wants. But it is not right that one company can evade taxes that could have gone to Irish families and businesses, hospitals and schools. The Commission watches over this fairness. This is the social side of competition law. And this is what Europe stands for.

A strong part of our European way of life that I want to preserve is our agricultural sector. The commission will always stand by our farmers, particularly when they go through difficult moments as is the case today. Last year, the dairy sector was hit with a ban imposed by Russia. This is why the commission mobilised €1 billion in support of milk farmers to help them get back on their feet. Because I will not accept that milk is cheaper than water.

A EUROPE THAT EMPOWERS

We need to work for a Europe that empowers our citizens and our economy. And today, both have gone digital.

Digital technologies and digital communications are permeating every aspect of life.

All they require is access to high-speed internet. We need to be connected. Our economy needs it. People need it.

And we have to invest in that connectivity now.

That is why today the commission is proposing to fully deploy 5G, the fifth generation of mobile communication systems, across the European Union by 2025. This has the potential to create a further two million jobs in the EU.

Everyone benefiting from connectivity means that it should not matter where you live or how much you earn.

So we propose today to equip every European village and every city with free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020.

As the world goes digital, we also have to empower our artists and creators and protect their works. Artists and creators are our crown jewels. The creation of content is not a hobby. It is a profession. And it is part of our European culture. I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or hyperlinked on the web.

The overhaul of Europe’s copyright rules we are proposing today does exactly that.

Empowering our economy means investing not just in connectivity, but in job creation.

That is why Europe must invest strongly in its youth, in its jobseekers, in its start-ups.

The €315 billion Investment Plan for Europe, which we agreed together here in this House just 12 months ago, has already raised €116 billion in investments — from Latvia to Luxembourg — in its first year of operation.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Junker: Never before has there been so little EU unity

And now we will take it further. Today, we propose to double the duration of the fund and double its financial capacity.

With your support, we will make sure that our European Investment Fund will provide a total of at least €500 billion — half a trillion — of investments by 2020. And we will work beyond that to reach €630 billion by 2022.

Solidarity is the glue that keeps our union together.

And when it comes to managing the refugee crisis, we have started to see solidarity. I am convinced much more solidarity is needed. But I also know that solidarity must be given voluntarily. It must come from the heart. It cannot be forced.

We often show solidarity most readily when faced with emergencies.

When the Portuguese hills were burning, Italian planes doused the flames. When floods cut off the power in Romania, Swedish generators turned the lights back on. When thousands of refugees arrived on Greek shores, Slovakian tents provided shelter.

In the same spirit, the commission is proposing today to set up a European Solidarity Corps. Young people across the EU will be able to volunteer their help where it is needed most, to respond to crisis situations, like the refugee crisis or the recent earthquakes in Italy.

I want this European Solidarity Corps up and running by the end of the year. And by 2020, to see the first 100,000 young Europeans taking part.

By voluntarily joining the European Solidarity Corps, these young people will be able to develop their skills and get not only work but also invaluable human experience.

A EUROPE THAT DEFENDS

A Europe that protects is a Europe that defends — at home and abroad. We must defend ourselves against terrorism.

Since the Madrid bombing of 2004, there have been more than 30 terrorist attacks in Europe — 14 in the last year alone. More than 600 innocent people died in cities like Paris, Brussels, Nice, or Ansbach.

Just as we have stood shoulder to shoulder in grief, so must we stand united in our response.

But we need to know who is crossing our borders.

That is why we will defend our borders with the new European Border and Coast Guard, which is now being formalised by parliament and council, just nine months after the commission proposed it.

By November, we will propose a European Travel Information System — an automated system to determine who will be allowed to travel to Europe. This way we will know who is travelling to Europe before they even get here.

And we all need that information.

Europe needs to toughen up. Nowhere is this truer than in our defence policy.

A scene from the Paris Attacks, last November
A scene from the Paris Attacks, last November

Europe can no longer afford to piggy-back on the military might of others or let France alone defend its honour in Mali.

We have to take responsibility for protecting our interests and the European way of life.

We should also move towards common military assets, in some cases owned by the EU. And, of course, in full complementarity with Nato.

The business case is clear. The lack of co-operation in defence matters costs Europe between €25 billion and €100 billion per year, depending on the areas concerned. We could use that money for so much more.

It can be done. We are building a multinational fleet of air tankers. Let’s replicate this example.

A EUROPE THAT TAKES RESPONSIBILITY

The last point I want to make is about responsibility. About taking responsibility for building this Europe that protects.

I call on all EU institutions and on all of our member states to take responsibility.

We have to stop with the same old story that success is national, and failure European. Or our common project will not survive.

We need to remember the sense of purpose of our union. I therefore call on each of the 27 leaders making their way to Bratislava to think of three reasons why we need the European Union. Three things they are willing to take responsibility for defending. And that they are willing to deliver swiftly afterwards.

Slow delivery on promises made is a phenomenon that more and more risks undermining the union’s credibility.

Take the Paris agreement. We Europeans are the world leaders on climate action. It was Europe that brokered the first-ever legally binding, global climate deal. It was Europe that built the coalition of ambition that made agreement in Paris possible. But Europe is now struggling to show the way and be among the first to ratify our agreement. Only France, Austria and Hungary have ratified it so far.

I call on all member states and on this parliament to do your part in the next weeks, not months. We should be faster. Let’s get the Paris agreement ratified now. It can be done. It is a question of political will. And it is about Europe’s global influence.

The European institutions too, have to take responsibility.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Junker: Never before has there been so little EU unity

I have asked each of my commissioners to be ready to discuss, in the next two weeks, the state of our union in the national parliaments of the countries they each know best. Since the beginning of my mandate, my commissioners have made over 350 visits to national parliaments. And I want them to do this even more now. Because Europe can only be built with the member states, never against them.

Being political also means correcting technocratic mistakes immediately when they happen. The commission, the parliament and the council have jointly decided to abolish mobile roaming charges. This is a promise we will deliver. Not just for business travellers who go abroad for two days. Not only for the holiday maker who spends two weeks in the sun. But for our cross-border workers. And for the millions of Erasmus students who spend their studies abroad for one or two semesters. I have therefore withdrawn a draft that a well-meaning official designed over the summer. The draft was not technically wrong. But it missed the point of what was promised. And you will see a new, better draft as of next week. When you roam, it should be like at home.

Being political is also what allows us to implement the Stability and Growth Pact with common sense. The pact’s creation was influenced by theory. Its application has become a doctrine for many. And today, the pact is a dogma for some.

In theory, a single decimal point over 60% in a country’s debt should be punished. But in reality, you have to look at the reasons for debt. We should try to support and not punish ongoing reform efforts. For this we need responsible politicians. And we will continue to apply the pact not in a dogmatic manner, but with common sense and with the flexibility that we wisely built into the rules.

Finally, taking responsibility also means holding ourselves accountable to voters. That is why we will propose to change the absurd rule that commissioners have to step down from their functions when they want to run in European elections.

The German chancellor, the Czech, Danish or Estonian prime minister do not stop doing their jobs when they run for re-election. Neither should commissioners. If we want a commission that responds to the needs of the real world, we should encourage commissioners to seek the necessary rendezvous with democracy. And not prevent this.

I am as young as the European project that turns 60 next years in March 2017.

I have lived it, worked for it, my whole life.

My father believed in Europe because he believed in stability, workers’ rights and social progress.

Because he understood all too well that peace in Europe was precious — and fragile.

I believe in Europe because my father taught me those same values.

But what are we teaching our children now? What will they inherit from us? A union that unravels in disunity? A union that has forgotten its past and has no vision for the future?

Our children deserve better.

They deserve a Europe that preserves their way of life.

They deserve a Europe that empowers and defends them. They deserve a Europe that protects.

It is time we — the institutions, the governments, the citizens — all took responsibility for building that Europe. Together.


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