On the eurozone, Juncker goes wide but not deep

Juncker hails Macron's pro-European stance but does not support his push for a multi-speed EU. [Olivier Hoslet/EPA]

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.

In his speech on the state of the European Union [#SOTEU], the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, called for merging the posts of the Commission and Council presidencies so that Europe could have only one captain. The reform aims to give more visibility, in his view, to the European institutions. But that is not shocking either.

This proposal for a minimal reform aims at countering the more ambitious targets for the eurozone suggested by some countries, including France, which de facto assumes a two-tier union.

Thanking Macron but distancing himself

The paradox is that Juncker is moving in this direction because he identifies a favourable period for doing so. The European economy is doing better, but above all pro-European sentiment is doing well. Notably thanks to France, where it has made strong progress and elected a pro-European leader.

However, Juncker opposes the vision of Europe of the first French president who campaigned on Europe. Thus, he is formally opposed to a parliament of the eurozone, called for by long-time France, and by the new French president again last week in Athens.

“I have no sympathy for the idea of a specific parliament in the euro area. The Parliament of the euro area is the European Parliament,” assured the president of the Commission.

In Athens, Macron outlines 'roadmap' for European democratic revival

French President Emmanuel Macron sketched a plan to “rebuild” the European Union through wider democracy and public accountability at the start of a two-day visit to Greece on Thursday (7 September).

Fear of East-West division

Juncker’s idea of extending the eurozone to countries that do not yet have the single currency is not new. In fact, the Treaty of Lisbon stipulates that all countries will one day be part of the single currency project.

But above all, it identifies a risk in the fact that some countries are advancing, and others do not. “Its primary goal is to preserve unity among the 27. It fears above all an East-West divide,” said Sébastien Maillard, director of the Jacque Delors Institute.

France’s focus on the posted workers directive already creates a gap between the East and the West. For the president of the European executive, the hiatus on the economic and political level should, on the contrary, make it possible to create new bridges.

“The current window of opportunity is helping to structure progress for the euro area, facilitating the introduction of pre-access instruments, notably on transfers or governance,” said Charles de Marcilly, head of the Brussels office at the Schuman Institute.

France seeks last-minute support for posted workers bill

France is scrambling to push through controversial amendments to the posting of workers bill before a decisive decision next month.

Continued scepticism on the euro

But disappointments about the eurozone have not convinced the countries outside the zone. Quite the contrary. The Danes have negotiated an opt-out that shields them from the single currency. Seven other countries (Croatia, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Sweden) are in various situations: some wish to enter the area but do not meet the necessary criteria. Others do not, such as Poland, Hungary and Sweden. It will take a little more to convince them than just a positive economic situation.

“Juncker’s position on the eurozone reflects an issue that is still in progress, where the differences are real for the future of the zone. We have proposals ourselves that the president will put forward soon. One of the foundations is that the strengthening of the eurozone must go hand in hand with greater democratic and parliamentary scrutiny,” said French minister for European affairs Nathalie Loiseau in Strasbourg.

For Socialist MEP Guillaume Balas (S&D), Juncker’s position shows the fractures within the European right, while the left and the Greens offer clear solutions.

As a response to Juncker’s speech, France should announce its own proposals for EU reform on 26 September, two days after the German elections, according to a diplomatic source quoted by Reuters. May the best man win.