Paris and Berlin don’t take Juncker’s ‘Union of equality’ seriously

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (C) prepares to pose for a group photo with ambassadors and permanent representatives of the 28 EU members state ahead to a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 08 Sptember 2017. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA]

European officials made positive comments on Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’ s State of the Union speech on Wednesday (13 September), but several said he would face stiff opposition for countering  “multi-speed Europe” by encouraging all states to join the euro.

Juncker’s core proposal for a “Union of Equality” by encouraging all states to join the euro and other EU structures faces resistance in both non-eurozone countries and potentially in Paris and Berlin, where the newly-elected President Emmanuel Macron and about-to-be-re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel are readying their own plans.

Juncker proposed EU funding and technical help to encourage non-euro members to get themselves into a position to join.

State of the Union 2017 Live, as it happened

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave his annual State of the European Union address at the European Parliament on Wednesday 13 September. EURACTIV.com brings you coverage, analysis and background from the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Juncker’s speech contained “many ambitious proposals” chiming with French ideas, an official at President Emmanuel Macron’s office said yesterday (13 September).

Macron’s office welcomed Juncker’s support for the French president’s proposals on vetting foreign investments considered to be strategic and his backing for democratic conventions.

However, asked about the issue of a distinct eurozone budget and parliament, and Macron’s proposals, which Juncker rejected, the French presidency official said Juncker had opened up options and that his timetable for detailed proposals in December was in line with Macron’s.

On the eurozone, Juncker goes wide but not deep

In his speech on the State of the Union, Jean-Claude Juncker insisted on the extension of the eurozone, but not on its deepening. He fears the two-speed Europe defended by Emmanuel Macron. EURACTIV France reports.

Macron plans to present his ideas for reforming the 19-nation eurozone on 26 September, two days after the German election, a French diplomatic source said. EU officials hope leaders may discuss the issues at a dinner on 28 September before a summit in Estonia.

EU officials say that with Britain leaving, and the eight remaining non-euro states accounting for only 15% of EU GDP, Juncker sees it as natural for EU and eurozone policy to operate in unison.

For that reason, he rejected proposals, led by France, for a special eurozone budget, finance minister and parliament. These functions, he said, should be filled instead by a vice president of the Commission, chairing the Eurogroup of 19 eurozone finance ministers and managing a eurozone budget that would be part of the budget for the whole EU, overseen by Parliament.

While Denmark, in fact, pegs its crown closely to the euro, a drive to push the likes of Poland and Sweden into the euro would be a hard sell in those countries, while Germany, France and others have been sceptical about letting poorer states join yet.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said yesterday that Juncker’s plan to build a closer EU based on an expanded eurozone was largely in line with Germany’s vision for the bloc.

Schäuble said that Juncker had discussed with Chancellor Angela Merkel his annual State of the EU speech in which he spoke of a vision of a post-2019 EU where some 30 countries would be using the euro.

“It is good that he is putting pressure (to expand the euro zone) but the preconditions (for joining the euro zone) must be fulfilled,” Schäuble told the ARD broadcaster in an interview.

“It is in fact so that EU countries who fulfil the preconditions become members of the euro under the Lisbon Treaty.”

He added that member states wishing to adopt the single currency should not do so before their public finances and economies are sound enough as they could face the fate of Greece, which had to be bailed out by the EU and IMF in 2010.

Beate Merk, a regional minister in Bavaria allied to Merkel, said expanding the euro to the whole EU would be “a risky experiment that would greatly heighten Europe’s problems”.

Ryszard Legutko, an MEP from Poland’s right-wing ruling party, warned against responding to problems with “the same old ‘more Europe, more Europe'” arguments. “That is not the answer,” he said. “We need to get the EU’s house in order before there can even be a discussion on centralising even further.”

Poland has no plans to join the euro, although its EU accession treaty requires it to do so. At the same time, Warsaw is strongly opposed to ‘multi-speed Europe’.

Poland warns multi-speed Europe could spawn 'more Brexits'

Polish President Andrzej Duda warned on Tuesday (5 September) that a multi-speed Europe could spawn “more Brexits” and the breakdown of the EU, after powerful eurozone members like France and Germany backed the model.

In contrast, Romanian politicians praised Juncker’s messages, in particular, his call that Romania and Bulgaria should immediately join the EU’s Schengen border-free space, and that an instrument to help non-eurozone members join the euro would be put in place.

Romanian President Klaus Ioannis saluted Juncker’s initiative for organising an EU summit in his home city of Sibiu, of which he has been the mayor, on 30 March 2019, one day after the UK would have left the EU.

“The whole idea on that day is to focus on…matters to come for the Union, not on the ones who are leaving,” one senior EU official said of the Sibiu summit.

As EURACTIV Romania reports, the Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Tudose also spoke positively of Juncker’s messages, making, however, a mistake by calling him “Council President.”

One of the proposals in the Juncker speech is to merge the jobs of Commission President and Council President, for a clearer personification of the Union’s leader.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov tweeted the Juncker quote, “It is high time to let Bulgaria and Romania in Schengen.”

Both Bulgaria and Romania have been considered fit by the Commission to join the borderless Schengen space since 2010. However, as admission requires unanimity, they have been blocked by member states such as France, Germany and the Netherlands, mainly due to electoral concerns in the older EU members.

A major fear in pro-European EU members such as Romania and Bulgaria is that despite assurances that all countries would be able to join core EU policies when they are ready, artificial obstacles could be created, such as those preventing them from joining Schengen.

Bulgaria will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from 1 January 2018. Romania will assume its stint from 1 January 2019.

State of the Union: Juncker snubs Poland, overwhelms Romania, Bulgaria

Pro-European EU members Bulgaria and Romania were overwhelmed with attention in Commission President’s Jean-Claude Juncker State of the Union speech today (13 September). In contrast, Poland, l‘enfant terrible of the EU, was not mentioned a single time.