Vision for EU takes centre stage in Juncker’s state of union address

Jean-Claude Juncker gives his State of the Union Address. Strasbourg, September 2016. [Europeran Parliament]

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will outline his ideas for the future of Europe in his landmark annual speech before the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg on 13 September.

It will contain some new initiatives but they will not be the core of his address to the MEP, officials have told EURACTIV.com

“He is not a person concerned about his legacy, he wants to leave a vision for the bloc,” said a person familiar with Juncker’s thinking.

The political season launched by this state of the union is almost the last chance for Juncker to leave his mark on the EU, after more than two decades at the heart of the Union’s decision-making process.

The speech will also be a culmination of the reflection process on the future of Europe Juncker launched last March.

State of the Union: As it happened

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker kicked off his State of the European Union address at the European Parliament at 9am today (14 Wednesday). EURACTIV’s live feed brought breaking news, live video and analysis of the speech.

For that reason, EU officials said, his focus would be on explaining his vision for the future of the European project, rather than on listing specific proposals.

Senior EU officials have said they expect a significant number of announcements in the address but cautioned that Juncker always takes the final decision on what is included.

An important number of proposals, including trade or cyber security, will be part of the European Commission’s work programme for 2018 and its skeleton, the letter of intent.

Juncker to push for new trade agreements in Union speech

The Commission president will ask for mandates to negotiate new free trade agreements, and will propose a framework to screen foreign investment, as part of a trade package to be announced during his state of the EU address on 13 September, officials told EURACTIV.com.

But Juncker wants to focus on what is his own personal choice for the future of Europe, going beyond the five scenarios he outlined last March.

“We did not propose it (the sixth scenario) because if we had proposed it, it would have been nipped in the bud”, he told the member states’ top diplomats to the EU last week.

But this sixth scenario is still in the making.

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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will support “more Europe” for all members instead of a two-speed model that would split the bloc, a senior Commission official has said, refuting previous allegations.

After the technical ground work laid by the directorates-general, Juncker sounded the waters about the state of the EU with his college (of commissioners) at the end of last week.

During the college’s retreat, he asked the commissioners to name the two or three dominant issues in the public debate of their member states.

The tensions with Poland over the rule of law and Turkey were recurrent themes, one of the attendees said. But domestic issues were also raised. Spanish Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete mentioned Catalonia’s efforts to hold a referendum on independence on 1 October.

It was one of the most interesting rentrée seminars as it was not scripted and the commissioners really spoke their minds about the mood among their fellow citizens.

Juncker then reached out to the capitals. His team said he has been in contact with various EU leaders to discuss the state of play of the Union and the future they envisage, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Slovak prime minister Robert Fico and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

His head of cabinet, Martin Selmayr, met on Tuesday evening with the ambassadors of COREPER I and Juncker will meet with the national envoys in COREPER II on Friday, confirming intensified diplomatic activity ahead of his address.

In parallel, Juncker also met several leaders of the political groups in the European Parliament and on Thursday he will attend the Conference of Presidents of the political groups, the Parliament’s top political body.

But in Strasbourg, he would find fewer allies and more vociferous critics. The Socialists (S&D), who supported his election to the executive’s helm, have walked away from a ‘grand coalition’ with European People’s Party. The ongoing dispute with Poland and Hungary and the slow-moving negotiations with Britain could also spark fresh criticism from members of the ruling parties in these countries.

Criticism was also heard inside the Commission itself. Some officials expressed frustration about the lack of clarity and guidance on what would be included in the speech.

A senior official pointed out that, even though the state of the union plays a major role during the political year – even more than the Commission’s work programme – Juncker does not need or seek approval from the college of commissioners.

Video: Juncker's full 2016 'State of the Union' address

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave his annual “State of the European Union” address in the European Parliament at 9.00am in Strasbourg this morning (14 Wednesday). Watch the full video here.