The hits and misses of Juncker’s State of the Union
Despite a shifting geopolitical landscape, or maybe because of it, around Europe and even though the EU is still dealing with the economic, social and political challenges coming from the 2008 financial crisis, this year’s State of the Union took a more positive outlook towards the future of Europe, with Commission President Juncker laying out his vision for a European Union in 2025 that is strongly anchored by freedom, equal opportunities and the rule of law.
To be able to realise this vision of Europe, he did not only announce several Commission legislative proposals and initiatives, but also called upon the European Parliament, and with more insistence on the Member States, to come forward and ensure their adoption before the end of this Commission’s mandate. Juncker also insisted that compromise should not be seen as something negative.
The European Movement International shares the vision for an EU based on freedom, opportunity and the rule of law. But we are convinced that in order to forge a democratic European Union with engaged citizens in which actors from society at large are involved in the decisions that affect us, more changes are needed than the ones proposed today, particularly in the area of institutional and democratic reform. Today’s proposals being considered, we commend the ‘hits’ and highlight the ‘misses’:
- Emphasis on a Europe of freedom, equal opportunities and the Rule of Law: a much-needed reminder that the foundation of the European Union is the respect for human rights, democracy, equality, and the rule of law. Maintaining the adherence of Member States to these founding values is key to the credibility of the Union. The next step is to enforce and complement existing mechanisms in the framework of a fully-fledged rule of law mechanism, as the European Movement has argued.
- Transparency in negotiating trade agreements: the announcement of the publication of draft negotiation mandates by the European Commission and a commitment to keep the European Parliament and national and regional parliaments better informed is good news. The European Movement International calls for this to also include the publication of lists of stakeholder meetings as well as overviews of negotiations documents and who has been granted access to them. More information on this can be found in our new Globalisation Paper.
- Improve European cooperation around cybersecurity and counterterrorism: the proposal for new bodies that complement and enhance existing cooperation agreements around intelligence sharing and cybersecurity is a good step towards a more secure Europe, as we have argued in our Security Policy Position.
- Schengen enlargement: free movement is the most tangible success of European integration. The Schengen Agreement has broken down barriers, brought people closer together and boosted the European economy. These benefits should be defended and extended to Bulgaria and Romania as well as Croatia, once it meets the criteria.
- A deeper & wider Economic and Monetary Union: a Euro accession instrument to help prepare Member States for their accession to the Euro Area will make the Euro the currency of the EU as a whole more rapidly. The designation of an EU minister for finance and economy and more legislative power for the European Parliament on EMU issues reflect our calls for EMU building blocks.
- Engaging citizens in the European elections: European Political Parties and Member States should think seriously about Juncker’s explicit support for spitzenkandidaten and transnational lists for the 2019 elections, which would contribute to a more democratic European Union, which we have recently expressed support for.
- A real move towards a more democratic Europe through institutional reform: for a more democratic European Union, more arenas for the participation of citizens and actors from society at large must be created. Furthermore, all elements of European cooperation, be it around the euro, social rights or defence, need to move further towards the community method and need proper reform, including treaty change where necessary in order to become more democratic and accountable. Advocating for more Qualified Majority Voting and introducing taskforces is not sufficient to close the gap between European citizens and the European institutions.
- The EU as world leader in the fight against climate change: even if climate change is among the five remaining priority areas, with only one concrete proposal on reducing carbon emissions in the transport sector, the EU will not be able to fill the gap the US left in terms of climate ambitions. More is needed on the short term to address the consequences of climate change.
- Offering a realistic assessment of the migration crisis and acting quickly to ensure the protection of those in need: the EU-Turkey deal might have in reduced irregular migration flows but it cannot be commended because it has led to creation of the precarious and inhumane conditions for refugees stranded on their way to Europe. Introducing a broader legal migration scheme to reduce irregular migration should receive the highest priority in terms of legislative efforts. Dignity and respect should be the core of any policy on migration, as we have argued.
- Offer a credible enlargement perspective: mentioning the need for a credible enlargement perspective without concrete action does not make the perspective more credible. The European Movement believes that what is needed is a positive enlargement narrative, a united voice of institutions and Member States, and more and better structured involvement of civil society organisations in the accession process.
- On social issues: The European Pillar of Social Rights should have received more prominence considering it is one of the flagship initiative of Mr Juncker’s tenure as Commission president. The European Movement considers it an important element in the debate on the future Europe, and we hope that the Pillar will be agreed at the Gothenburg Summit. The addition of a social dimension to the European semester so it does not just cover social issues is a further omission which we would like to see addressed.
- On Sustainability: The speech did not feature sustainability or the 2030 SDG Agenda, something that constitutes a significant omission, not least because the EU must function as a leading advocate for a more sustainable future. The EU has a responsibility to make the Sustainable Development Goals an integral part of its political and policy priorities if it is to lead by example.
What our members think
Below you will find some of the key highlights and criticisms of the address from some of our member organisations:
European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)
Hit: Luca Visentini, Secretary General stated “I welcome his call for the European Pillar of Social Rights to be agreed at the latest by the Gothenburg Summit in November.”
Miss: Mr Visentitni added “The speech painted a rosy picture of economic recovery and was too light on proposals for social justice.”
Centre Européen de l’Entreprise Publique (CEEP)
Hit: “I believe the vision for this SOTEU is very ambitious, and that now is the right moment to put all those projects in motion. CEEP was particularly interested to hear President Juncker calling for a pan-European list at the upcoming elections in 2019; it is this sort of ideas that will make citizens realise that the European democracy is more than the sum of the 27 Member States’ reality.” Said Valeria Ronzitti, Secretary General.
Miss: She added “We are disappointed that the speech ignored once again the role that public services and services of general interest play in Europe: industrial policy cannot flourish without strong public services infrastructure, just like social rights cannot happen without strong public services, one of the cornerstone of welfare systems. Public services are too often taken for granted, and it leads EU and national institutions failing to invest on them, putting at risk the whole vision presented by President Juncker.”
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
Hit: Jeremy Wates, Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau said “We welcome President Juncker setting out climate change as a clear priority in his State of the Union address and cementing EU global leadership on this.”
Miss: “Yet again President Juncker has failed to bring himself to even mention sustainability or the 2030 SDG Agenda. This is deeply worrying as we need to bring the Sustainable Development Goals to the heart of policymaking at European and Member State level.” Mr Wates added.
European Youth Forum (EYF)
Hit: Anna Widegren, Secretary General stated “We welcome President Juncker’s commitment to Social Europe and to be the leader in the fight against climate change. These are key concerns for young people. Europe can pave the way for a better tomorrow for future generations. Young people are ready to build this more united, stronger and more democratic Union.
Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR)
Hit: Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General of CEMR reacted with the following:“In the State of the Union speech, EU Commission President Juncker announced the creation of a Subsidiarity and Proportionality Task Force. For CEMR this is a positive step towards better law making and highlights that the Commission is paying closer attention to improving EU governance. Hopefully, this Task Force will include towns and regions’ representatives. They can play a positive role helping the EU’s efforts to focus on those issues where they can make a real difference. Furthermore, CEMR welcomes Juncker’s presentation of a sixth scenario for reforming Europe, recalling Europe’s diversity and focusing on core European values: freedom, equality and the rule of law.”