Juncker’s State Of The Union address: which way to go for the EU?

On 13 September 2017, European Commission President Jean-Clause Juncker delivered his State of the Union Address in the European Parliament.

Referring to the present ‘momentum’ to establish a positive European agenda, the President proposed a number of initiatives and ideas, such as: to open the Schengen cooperation to Bulgaria and Romania; to encourage the Member States which so far have not done so to join the Euro once they fulfil all conditions; to maintain a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans; to rule out EU membership for Turkey for the foreseeable future; to nominate a European Minister of Economy and Finance; to make the EU stronger in fighting terrorism; to make the EU a stronger global actor in the domains of foreign policy and defence; and, last but not least, to merge the roles of President of the European Commission and the European Council into a single EU President to be elected after a Europe-wide election campaign.

Juncker’s speech was immediately criticized by a number of politicians including several Heads of Government. They consider his views and ideas unrealistic, not to mention out-of-the-question.

Here we are confronted with slightly narrow-minded national positions on the one hand and a vision recommending Europe-wide solutions for global problems on the other. Moreover, what else could one have expected from a personality representing the general interest of the Union?

The least one can say is that Juncker has put forward ideas and proposals worthy of being discussed not only at the level of the European institutions but also in the Member States, at both the local and regional level. Not only public authorities should participate in these discussions, but also other players like civil society, NGOs and ordinary citizens.

What is surprising, though, is that Juncker’s ‘sixth’ scenario hardly refers to the principle of ‘differentiation’, the framework of cooperation in smaller circles, which in fact was a fundamental element of his ‘Future of Europe’ White Paper of March this year.

Because of the nature of Juncker’s address as a document for reflection, one may understand that this element was left out. However, once it will appear during the forthcoming discussions that indeed several members of the European Council reject Juncker’s proposals, the idea of differentiated cooperation should be reintroduced in the debate.

Certainly, in this discussion a distinction has to be made between institutional proposals and the ones related to substantive EU policies.

Indeed, the adoption of Juncker’s institutional proposals will require consensus between the Member States, since they touch upon the basic structures of the Union for which all Member States are responsible. On the contrary, the ones related to EU policies could be subject of forms of differentiated cooperation, such as enhanced cooperation: those in favour of a proposal should be allowed to accept and apply them, whereas the others can follow later, if so wished.

Therefore, let’s be grateful to Jean Claude Juncker having launched his proposals which – if accepted by at least a large majority (three quarters?) of Member States – may bring the EU further and enable the EU to become a real global player.

Jaap de Zwaan, TEPSA Secretary-General