As US presidents tend to do at the end of their mandates, Jean-Claude Juncker will look abroad in his final months as European Commission President. As is the case with the commanders-in-chief on the other side of the Atlantic, the reason lies in the problems he faces at home.
Juncker does not face a hostile Congress after disappointing mid-term elections. Instead, his enemy is a fragmented Union.
The bloc has never been more fragmented since European nations decided to come together almost seven decades ago. “Ever closer union” no longer presides over the European house.
The debates on the future of the monetary union and migration offer solid examples of a worrying trend.
The divisions are not only “very visible”, Donald Tusk warned a few months ago, but they come with emotions “which make it hard to find even a common language and rational arguments”.
As heard in the debate following Juncker’s speech, the world is not living in an era of change, but a change of era.
The multilateral order is at stake. The Transatlantic Alliance is cracking. China is becoming the world superpower again, after more than two centuries of Western hegemony. And the digital revolution is transforming how we work and live.
Europe cannot be a spectator or commentator, Juncker told MEPs. “It must be an architect of tomorrow’s world”, he said. That should come with a bigger role for the euro in the global economy and the Europeans acting as one in international affairs.
But member states’ divisions continue to weigh on Europe’s response to the challenges facing it.
A group of member states continue to block proposals to strengthen the euro by completing the banking union or moving toward a fiscal union.
Given the constraints on him – an earlier idea to unify eurozone representation at the IMF was swiftly rejected by governments — Juncker chose on Wednesday to suggest breaking the dollar’s dominance in the global economy, starting by paying for Russian gas with euros. The idea should not find opposition amongst eurozone members, but even in the unlikely event that it becomes reality, it hardly hides the fundamental flaws of the euro.
In foreign affairs, the goal is to make moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting palatable to member states in a few areas, in a bid to turn up the European voice and drown out the cacophony of national interests.
Meanwhile, by bolstering the European Border and Coast Guard, or expediting the expulsion of undocumented migrants he expects opponents to finally unblock reform of the Dublin asylum system. But as the pre-campaign for the European election slowly gets underway, these concessions are scarcely like to be sufficient to satisfy ‘hardliners’ on migration.
With all his proposals on the table, but only baby steps taken on the critical dossiers, Juncker appealed to the majority who still love Europe in this turbulent period.
“I love Europe still and shall do so forever more,” he concluded.
But his declaration of love could turn into a eulogy if the tide does not change.
It is time to check how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go. Follow The State Of the Union debate where the members of the European Parliament examine the European Commission’s achievements and debate its objectives. It’s one of the ways in which the Parliament holds the executive power to democratic account. This year it was held on Wednesday, September 12th at 09:00 CET. Click here to watch it! #thistimeimvoting #EUelections2019
By Alexandra Brzozowski
A sum-up of crunch time Wednesday: In his SOTEU, Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker painted the ‘big picture’ of EU’s global role and offered an EU-Africa trade deal, proposed to break the dollar’s dominance in global markets, backed deeper carbon cuts and announced to go to war against disinformation and online terrorist content.
Parliament also voted en masse to recommend triggering Article 7 against Hungary after a rather evasive Juncker speech avoided slamming rule of law violations. The vote also revealed deep divisions inside the biggest political family, the European People’s Party.
Drama also struck the hemicycle as the European Parliament backed the controversial copyright bill, drawing cheers of jubilation and howls of disapproval.
Bulgaria and Croatia should join the EU’s passport-free Schengen area immediately, EPP group leader Manfred Weber said in a friendly gesture to two Eastern European governments from his political family.
Meanwhile, Italian deputy PM Matteo Salvini, who also leads the far-right League party, wants the new European Commission to be led by conservatives and populists.
Around one million people filled central Barcelona to celebrate Catalonia’s commemorative day and boost a bid for independence which has left deep divisions almost a year after it brought Spain to a constitutional crisis.
The Visegrad Four, as well as Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Slovenia, have warned about “disproportions” in the food supply chain if large suppliers are not covered by the European Commission’s proposal on unfair trade practices.
Does Europe care about overfishing in the Baltic Sea? The European Commission’s proposed quota for the very fragile Eastern Baltic cod stock significantly surpasses scientific recommendation, warns Lasse Gustavsson.
Look out for…
A calmer Thursday. We all need it.
Views are the author’s