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Analysis

The state of Juncker

by Nick Kent | 16.09.2017

Jean-Claude Juncker’s “State of the European Union” address to the European Parliament this week predictably attracted the fury of British Europhobes. But it was a sign of the European Commission president’s impotence rather than his power.

Juncker’s vision for the EU was a marvellous muddle of metaphors. He had spotted a “window of opportunity” and it was time to “catch the wind in our sails”. With MEPs nervously holding the railings, Juncker’s yacht hacked into choppy waters.  

The president’s desire for all member states to join the euro was made clear. He demanded that Romania and Bulgaria be admitted to the Schengen area. He called for the commissioner in charge of the euro to become the eurozone’s finance and economy minister. And he proposed the merger of the presidencies of the Commission and the European Council. It was this last proposal that was the intended bombshell; proposing to end the careful separation of powers that is at the heart of the EU’s treaties.

This was no doubt exciting stuff but it is irrelevant to the problems that the EU faces today and has almost no chance of being adopted. Indeed, Juncker had barely resumed his seat before a procession of EU prime ministers started to sink his yacht. The Dutch and Danish leaders rejected the idea outright; some praised other parts of the speech but pointedly did not mention the single presidency idea. This speech told us more about the state of Juncker’s mind than the state of the EU.

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Juncker can make as many radical proposals as he likes for changing the EU’s treaties but he cannot make it happen. It is member states that must unanimously agree such changes and many have national treaty ratification procedures that are notoriously problematic. The Danes, Dutch, Irish and French would all struggle to win a referendum on a fresh EU treaty, as past events have shown. Reform to address structural problems in the eurozone is undoubtedly needed and will happen, eventually, but it may well be less ambitious than Juncker hopes.

Juncker’s idea of a single presidency was neither new nor surprising from a federalist but in their over-reaction to it, the Europhobes showed once again how much they are linked in a symbiotic relationship with the federalists. They feed off each other, generating much heat in the media but little light for the road ahead. While Juncker and Nigel Farage drunkenly dad dance their way through the discos of Brussels, the rest of the EU is getting on with the serious business of reviving growth, reducing unemployment and tackling the migration crisis.

The tragedy is that Brexit will rob the EU of a country with a tradition of offering practical, workable ideas that make the union better. It was the UK that drove EU policy on free trade and on creating the single market. It pursued closer cooperation against crime and terrorism and successfully advocated enlargement. Those who care about the EU and want to see it prosper do not advocate yet more treaty-making but the sheer hard grind of keeping it relevant as the pace of change races away.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

2 Responses to “The state of Juncker”

  • Juncker acts much in the way that Boris Johnson in the UK does; unacceptably irresponsible at times, with no regard for what the desired outcome for either the EU or the U.K. Is. On top of that both have a tendency to ride into the wheels of those in charge of the process. Unfortunately Johnson even more so than Juncker. But it will be a good time when this gentleman goes round the end of January, let’s hope his successor is made of more diplomatic stuff. And if Johnson keeps going on the way he does perhaps there will be an open door with an arrow pointing out waiting for him too. Who knows?

  • There are many Eurosceptics who said we could never influence Europe, but Juncker’s speech is a perfect example of how much influence we had in Europe. He would not have been so bold had Britain been still part of it, as one of the 3 most influential nations. Britain’s influence as an ‘Atlanticist’, and as a member seeking a looser integration, will be missed by countries like the Netherlands and Denmark. Without us there, it will be more a case of the direction Germany and France want to go.
    i don’t think Juncker is doing more than flying a kite to see which way the wind is blowing. The leadership of any major company or organisation is going to be ambitious setting new goals, rather than a no change, steady as she goes policy. Any changes in the direction of the EU will ultimately come down to the most powerful member states, Germany and France, and according to the principle of he who pays the piper, calls the tune. It’s where Britain should be, as if we have learned anything from history, it is that whatever happens in Europe, ultimately affects us.