The “wind is back in Europe’s sails”, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said in his annual state of the union address.
He told the European Parliament there was a “window of opportunity” to build a stronger, more united union – but it “wouldn’t stay open forever”.
Mr Juncker said Europe’s economy was “bouncing back” and the EU had to move beyond Brexit.
He called for the union to embrace reforms and forge new trade deals.
Mr Juncker argued that recent existential threats to the European Union – posed by Brexit, the migrant crisis and the rise of populism – had receded.
‘Brexit isn’t everything’
Addressing the UK on its decision to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, he said that “we will always regret this, and I think you will regret this too, soon”. “We will move on because Brexit isn’t everything. It isn’t the future of Europe – it’s not the be all and end all.”
While last year it had been plain to see the EU was “battered and bruised”, he said, now the union was “slowly but surely gathering momentum”.
The state of the union address gives the Commission president a chance to outline the political objectives of the EU executive for the immediate future and announce new policies.
Mr Juncker looked forward to a European Union beyond Brexit where membership of the banking union, eurozone and the Schengen border-free zone would be standard.
Trade talks should open with Australia and New Zealand, he said, and be completed by late 2019. But he said there had to be reciprocity in trade deals: “We have to get as much as much as we give.”
During a speech lasting just over an hour, in English, French and German, Mr Juncker focused on the future of the union itself and the challenges it faces:
- He praised Europe’s progress on migration, saying it protected its external borders in a more efficient manner, and he highlighted Italy’s “perseverance and generosity” in helping to manage irregular migration
- Work needed to be done opening legal migration routes and ending “scandalous” conditions in Libya, he said
- Europe had to pursue a “credible enlargement project to the countries of the Western Balkans”
- It was high time for Romania and Bulgaria to be brought into the EU’s border-free Schengen zone and Croatia should join when it was ready.
Mr Juncker called for his own role of Commission president to be merged with that of the Council president and elected following a “pan-European campaign”.
But he added that this proposal did not “target in any way” the work of his “excellent friend” Donald Tusk – the current incumbent. Any attempt to merge the two roles would require a change to EU treaties.
‘Stop calling our leaders fascists!’
The Commission leader also proposed the creation of a Europe-wide finance minister, enabling deeper integration of the eurozone.
He singled out Turkey, accusing its leaders of distancing the country from the EU, and insisting the government in Ankara “let our journalists go” and to stop personal attacks on European leaders.
“Stop calling our leaders fascists and Nazis!” he demanded, to applause from the assembly.
Wind back in Europe’s sails, Juncker tells EU parliament