EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said that the wind is back in Europe’s sails and set out his vision for further EU integration and enlargement by 2025 in his State of the Union address on Wednesday. Beginning by recapping Europe’s progress since the economic crash of 2007 that has seen the EU’s economy add 8 million jobs and outperform the UK and US in the past year, Juncker turned his attention to the work he wants to see finished by the end of this commission’s mandate in 2019.
In his penultimate address before stepping down, Juncker proposed opening free trade talks with Australia and New Zealand. At the same time, in a message likely pointed at China, he also proposed the creation of a framework for investment screening to protect sensitive industries from foreign, state-owned takeover. Juncker also announced the setting up of a new cyber security agency to defend against online hacking, which he said can be “more dangerous to the stability of democracies and economies than guns and tanks.”
Turning his attention to longer term objectives, Juncker proposed that by 2025 the Schengen free movement area should be expanded to include Bulgaria and Romania. On the single currency he said that the “Euro is meant to be the single currency of the European Union as a whole.” As such, he proposed the creation of a Euro-accession instrument to guide member states along the path to joining the currency. On the topic of expansion, Juncker said there must be “a credible enlargement perspective for the Western Balkans,” once they meet the requirement in the areas of rule of law, justice and fundamental rights. Implying that Turkey has failed to uphold these values he said that Ankara’s membership bid is on hold for the “foreseeable future” and called on Turkey to release jailed journalists.
In what would amount to a major institutional shakeup he also proposed merging the positions of EU Commission and Council Presidents into one, saying, “Europe would be easier to understand if one captain was steering the ship.”
The chamber erupted in applause when Juncker made his only explicit reference to Brexit, saying that he believed the UK would come to regret its decision. He went on to propose that a special summit take place in Romania the day after Brexit occurs. “It should be the moment we come together to take the decisions needed for a more united, stronger and democratic Europe,” he said.