State of the Union 2018: cautious calls for more unity

On 12 September, in his fourth and final State of the Union speech – “The Hour of European Sovereignty” – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prepared the Union for the rough months to come.

Juncker, for sure, had no trouble finding inspiration for his speech. The question of migration is far from being solved and sparks of populism throughout the Union keep politicians searching for answers. Hence, he touched upon a wide array of topics, always recalling his key message that only a united Europe is strong enough to withstand the challenges of the future.

Of course, a topic he could not miss was Brexit, as no discussion or decision is spared by it. Especially not the future of the European Union.

Yet, his remarks on Brexit exposed nothing new under the sun: he once again reminded his audience of the inviolability of the single market and that the times of cherry picking are over. Regarding the most sensitive issue of the discussion, Juncker made it clear that Ireland will not be left alone throughout the final rounds of negotiations. The EU27 will continue to stand together in solidarity with Ireland and continue supporting the objective to prevent a hard border. This does not mean that the EU turns against the UK but rather it will value a close relationship in the future.

While Brexit puts a negative tone on the unity in Europe, the forthcoming European Parliamentary elections and the appointment of the new European Commission will definitely keep up the heat not only in Brussels but also in the Member States in the next 12-16 months.

With reference to the forthcoming elections, Juncker, as true European, expressed his support for the “Spitzenkandidaten” procedure and his desire to see transnational lists in the European Parliament in 2024. It remains questionable, however, whether his wish will come true since the European Parliament already rejected transnational lists for the elections in 2019.

In terms of policy, by following Juncker’s plan for the months before the elections, it will not get boring for policy wonks in the EU bubble. Further progress on proposals in policy fields such as the digital single market, waste management or digital taxation, are just a few of his many wishes. Overall, Juncker hopes to see divides between North, East, South and West to be overcome.