State of the Union 2017 – Towards ‘a Union of states and a Union of citizens’

On Wednesday 13 September, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, gave his annual State of the Union address to Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In his speech, Mr. Junker set the stage for his vision for deeper European cooperation and of EU institutional change without the messy and long-wielding need for Treaty change. Dr2 Consultants broke down the key points for you:

A single European institutional President

A key aspect of Juncker’s speech focused on his vision of using the UK’s departure in 2019 to make the EU more democratic, streamlined and easier to understand for its citizens. In his remarkable proposal, he advocated to reduce the five different EU Presidencies to only three by placing responsibility for the eurozone with a Commission vice-president, effectively acting as an EU economics and finance minister, and merging the Presidencies of the European Commission and of the Council. According to the plan, the new President would be elected in a democratic manner with a full election campaign. While many pro-EU listeners welcomed Juncker’s proposals, the proposal hit immidiate restistance from a number of Member States considering it a powergrab and attempt of undermining their role by the Commission.

“Europe would function better if we were to merge the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council,” Juncker said, adding: “Europe would be easier to understand if one captain was steering the ship. Having a single president would better reflect the true nature of our European Union as both a union of states and a union of citizens.”

The 6th scenario on the Future of Europe

Following the Commission’s presentation of 5 scenarios on the future of the European Union in light of the United Kingdom’s exit decision, Jean-Claude Juncker used the State of the Union speech to the European Parliament to present his vision of a 6th scenario in which Europe would be a union of equality and equality of opportunity, between its members, big and small, east or west in which individual citizens would not be treated as second-class citizens based on their nationality or residency. In this Union, he reiterated, there could not be second class workers who do the same work in the same place, but do not receive the same remuneration – a clear reference to the stalled negotiations for the revision of the Posted Workers Directive. To ensure the above, Juncker proposed a new European supervisory and implementation authority on social rules to make sure that the single market was based on equality and EU social rules were enforced.

Furthermore, Juncker stressed that in a single market there could not be second class consumers either and that he could not accept that citizens from Eastern and central-European countries were buying products under the same packaging as Western Europeans which had less fish in fish fingers, less meat in meat products, or less cocoa in chocolate.

Reinforcing Europe’s trade relationships

While Europe is open to trade, Juncker, in his speech, insisted there had to be reciprocity with the EU’s trade relations providing jobs, new opportunities for large and small businesses in the European economy. He insisted that Europe is an attractive economy, which this year concluded its trade agreement with Canada and, last month, a political agreement on trade with Japan. Looking ahead to 2018, the Commission President hoped to conclude the agreement with Mexico and South America’s Mercosur, together with starting negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. In light of critics of free trade and the EU’s trade strategy, Juncker insisted that the EU was not naïve supporter of free trade, but supported its strategic interests and our collective security.