»Those who don’t know how to seek compromise, are not suitable for a democracy and not capable for Europe« is only one of many statements that Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, made yesterday morning is his annual address to the European Parliament, the State of the European Union, where he presented his vision for Europe.
This year, things were different. Juncker decided to dedicate the biggest part of his speech to his vision of the future of the European Union. As a true European, Juncker followed the ideas of Europe’s founding fathers and set out a number of ambitious, yet practical and realistic goals for a closer cooperation among the European Union Member States. He spoke of common values (freedom, equality and rule of law), which he transformed into concrete examples. His discourse contained a strong European note of a project that is never finished and that we can build upon, change and adapt any time we are wish. A sole President for the Union, a Minister for economy and finance, pan-European lists for European Parliament elections, a common army and a mechanism for exchange of data among secret services are only some of key elements related to Juncker’s vision for Europe in 2025.
The sixth scenario for the Union on the current legal basis
A while ago, the European Commission published the White Paper on the Future of the Union, which includes five scenarios that were presented to citizens for discussion, and exchange of views on the desired future of Europe. In his State of the European Union address, Juncker added the sixth scenario. We could say that his scenario is a rough combination of Scenario 5 (Doing much more in all areas) and Scenario 2 (Only common market). We could even say that Juncker used that most basic premise of European cooperation, which Robert Schuman enshrined in his statement saying that Europe will not be built in a day, rather through concrete achievements creating a de facto solidarity. In addition, Juncker based his arguments on the strongest pillar of European cooperation – the common market and established rules from current Treaties.
A European FBI and a common army in 2025
Based on existing rules, and to strengthen European security, the Union could start adopting its common foreign policy decisions using the qualified majority rule in the Council (and not unanimity as is the current practice), Juncker suggested. In addition, the Member States could decide for a structured cooperation in the field of defence and, by 2025, form a European Defence Union. Legal basis for such decisions already exists, what is missing is the political will.
Furthermore, Juncker called for a more efficient approach to addressing the main security threat in Europe – terrorism. Fight against international terrorism in the Union could be strengthened by an establishment of a European Unit for exchange of data among secret services and police in Member States. This could be seen as a kind of a European version of the American FBI. In addition, the President of the Commission suggested additional competences be given for a European prosecution of cross-border terrorist acts. Finally, he highlighted the need for burden and responsibility sharing in the context of migrations and the need to jointly safeguard and manage common external borders. In relation to Schengen, Juncker wishes to see it expand to Bulgaria and Romania, as well as Croatia, once all conditions are met.
European minister for economy, a single President and pan-European lists
The common market has since the establishment of European integrations been the reason, motor and ideology of furthering cooperation in Europe. Juncker decided to build on it further by presenting his view on the equality at the common market. Equality of companies, consumers, workers and goods constitute its core idea. Junker suggested to expand the use of qualified majority voting to additional areas such as the common European tax. He furthermore discussed the need for a stronger economic and monetary union as well as a pre-accession instrument for those Member States that are yet to join the Eurozone. According to the President, Euro is not merely a currency of some Member States but should become the currency of the Union as a whole. Such policies are to be managed and supported by the new European minister for economy and finances, tasked with coordination of financial instruments and economic policies.
In a political sense, Juncker made another step further as he suggested an introduction of pan-European lists at European elections, and a merger of the President of the Commission with the function of the President of the European Council. This would allow for a creation of a single President for the EU. Americans might finally know whom to call. In spite of opposition from his own political group (European People’s Party) Juncker insisted that the European elections in 2019 see pan-European lists and pan-European campaigns. He called on unity of European politicians in presenting to citizens a series of clear and concrete results and ideas for a common European future. Implementation of his suggestions would indeed mean an important democratic advance, and for some, even a (cristal) clear step towards federalisation of Europe.
Concrete castles in the sky
Some Members of the European Parliament accused Juncker of building castles in the sky. However, the main political groups seemed to in principle agree with what the President of the Commission has been saying. The recent economic crisis prompted much talk on the need for a strong and charismatic EU leader to help Member States find the will and reason for rebooting European integrations.
This year’s State of the European Union address certainly demanded extensive political skills, as well as political capital that Juncker confidently spread out to the Members of the European Parliament. A lack of a strong opposition to his words from the part of main political groups could point to a bright future for building a new floor in the common European house, or a castle. This castle might currently still be in the clouds, but once concrete proposals and actions start lifting the mist, we might understand that our common future does indeed remain in an ever-closer union for the benefit of citizens of the European Union.