Juncker: ‘Europe must take care of its own defence’

Jean-Claude Juncker said fragmentation of defence capabilities costs Europe dearly. [Friends of Europe/Flickr]

In an interview, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told EURACTIV’s partner Ouest France that Europe urgently needs to improve its defence cooperation and look after its economic interests.

Jean-Claude Juncker is president of the European Commission. He spoke to Ouest France’s Laurent Marchand.

Is the election of Donald Trump the final nail in the coffin for the free trade deal with the United States (TTIP)?

We had a lot of difficulty agreeing with the Obama administration. Contrary to what has been said, we have not caved to the enormous pressure from the US, particularly on public markets and financial services.

I do not think the Trump presidency will be any less demanding and I think the chances of seeing this deal concluded are getting smaller and smaller. One day, I believe, Europe will see that this is a huge missed opportunity.

Just as a less comprehensive agreement would have been?

Yes, but not many people know that 31 million jobs – that is one in seven jobs in the EU – depend on foreign trade. The agreement reached with South Korea created 200,000 jobs. Trade deals benefit Europeans if they are negotiated well. And they only make sense if Europe arms itself with trade defence tools like those used by the US.

But we are a long way from this.

The US imposed a 260% customs duty on Chinese steel imports, while the EU imposed a duty of just 20%. China’s overproduction of steel is exactly double Europe’s entire production. We have to bulk up our trade protection arsenal.

Are you advocating European protectionism?

No, this is not protectionism. Commercial exchange has to be free but opportunities must be equal. We cannot voluntarily lay down arms.

Trump’s election is a wake-up call to Europe about its defence responsibilities. Is this a major change?

Trump is not the first one to let us know that Europe’s defence provisions are inadequate. But he is more brutal in his manner. It is now a burning obligation for Europe to take care of its own defence.

Today, the fragmentation of our defence efforts is costing us dearly – between €25 billion and €100 billion per year – and making us vulnerable. We spend €200 billion on defence but we only have 15% of the Americans’ efficiency because we have too many overlaps and not enough interoperability.

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That’s an old problem…

Europe has two armies worthy of this name, and if the United Kingdom leaves the EU there will only be one left: the French army, which very often steps in to save Europe’s honour. Governments will have to explain the reality of the situation to the public; in the long run, no EU member state is capable of defending either itself or the continent.

Trump, Fillon, the supporters of dialogue with Moscow are back in fashion. What is your view on this?

Our relations with Russia are one enormous work in progress. Without Russia, there is no European defence structure. EU territories cover just 5.5 million km², while Russia alone covers 17.5 million km². So I would like the EU and Russia to deal with one another as equals.

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By maintaining the sanctions against Moscow?

If we tell Russia the sanctions will continue, this is the kind of language that hits home. If we allow the idea to surface that this may not happen, Moscow will take advantage. This is not a remark aimed at my friend François Fillon, it is just a general observation. We must be united in our discourse against Russia’s willing violation of Europe’s borders.

Russia is financing a very active influence campaign in Europe, is it not?

It looks that way. Do you know how many people the EU employs to run counter-propaganda? Eleven. And Russia? 4,000. We have no sense of the ridiculous here.

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Press freedom and the independence of the judiciary are being attacked in Poland and Hungary. Can the Union do anything to oppose this?

Without mentioning particular countries, I have seen the fundamental values of the European construction being treated with a certain disregard. As the Commission, we struggle to impose our view.

The principle of unanimity has made Article 7 of the European Treaty, which allows for a member state to be sanctioned if it stops playing by the rules, into nothing more than a water pistol. We are having these conversations, particularly with the Polish authorities. We have to try and be persuasive. But it does worry me.

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The European Parliament adopted a text calling for Turkey’s accession negotiations to be frozen. Do you support this?

I think that over the last two years, Turkey has moved a little further from the EU every day. And after having made such remarkable democratic progress. Ankara needs to ask itself: does it really intend to become a member of the EU one day?

Mr Erdoğan must know that one day he will be the one held responsible for refusing visa liberalisation. He is passing the buck onto the EU. And I pass it straight back to him. His refusal to accept our criteria means he has refused Turkish citizens free movement in Europe.

On immigration, was Angela Merkel’s decision to open the borders in September 2015 a noble gesture or a big mistake?

It was a human gesture that deserves respect and applause. Some call it a mistake. But there were hundreds of thousands of refugees in Hungary trying to force their way over the Austrian border. If we had not opened the borders that night, what would have happened? The situation would have been exactly the same as on the Greek islands. So I think she was right. What is more, she is a Christian Democrat, and that means something. It is a particular view of democracy.

Are you in favour of strengthening the EU’s external borders?

One year ago, the Commission proposed a system of border guards and coast guards. The Parliament and the Council now agree and the project is under way. What most people do not know is that the Commission proposed this in 2001. It was unanimously refused by the member states, including France and Germany. They say Europe has failed. No.  It was the member states that did not want it.

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How do you keep in touch with public opinion when you are at the top of the Commission?

When I walk around in the streets of Luxembourg, people tell me what they like and what they do not like. I have known for a long time that Europe does a bad job of making itself understood. I am convinced that Europe should take care of the big problems of the times, not the small things.

What does this mean?

We, the Commission, are not there to hassle people. We have to be big on the big things and small on the small things. This means addressing the Digital Single Market, energy and not regulating coffee machines or toilet flushes. This is what we have been doing for two years.

What do you say to farmers in trouble, who feel unprotected against the big multinationals and globalisation?

Personally, I am a big defender of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Without the CAP, Europe would be in a strategically weak position. Until 1964, Europe was not self-sufficient in its food production. Today it is, thanks to the CAP and the efforts of European farmers.

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Maybe in the broader sense, but for people…

Yes. But first, we have to defend macro-agriculture for strategic reasons. I am very sensitive to the problems of the dairy sector. We also have to take our chances where we see them. Indonesia and Vietnam, for example, have 340 million inhabitants and produce only one-quarter of the dairy products they consume. That is an enormous market to grasp. And this comes back to your first question: the need for balanced trade agreements.

Is Europe losing influence in the world?

We are the smallest continent. Europeans accounted for 20% of the global population at the beginning of the 20th century. We will end the 21st century at just 4%. Faced with this new situation, Europe has to concentrate its efforts.

Trump said, “America first”.  Would you say “Europe first”?

That is not the right question. Because saying “Europe first” or talking about the “United States of Europe”, is misleading. I am a vigorous opponent of the concept of the “United States of Europe”. I think it will never see the light of day. We should abandon the idea that the EU is becoming a superstate. People do not want that. People need closeness, the feeling that develops towards their immediate surroundings. That is the Europe we should defend.