JEF Europe on the State of Union: A Step Forward for Federalists?

Brussels, 15 September 2017

On Wednesday morning, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his much-anticipated State of the Union speech, setting out the EU priorities for the rest of his mandate as well as his vision for the future of the Union. His speech has been both celebrated and criticised for its somewhat federalist content - to clarify matters, JEF Europe analyses the President’s proposals and lays down what they mean for #ourEurope.

A democratic Europe

As Young European Federalists, we were pleased to see that the strengthening of European democracy is at the heart of Juncker’s concerns. With regard to the upcoming European parliamentary elections in 2019 we are pleased to hear that President Juncker puts his weight behind the idea of transnational lists and the continuation of the ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ (head candidates) model, which was an important step to improving the Commission’s democratic legitimacy. In this light, we can only support his call to European political parties to start campaigning for the elections in 2019 earlier than in the past. The words Juncker uses to underline the importance of rule of law within the EU are clear and thus much appreciated. We hope that democratic conventions will happen as proposed by Juncker and Macron and will trigger debates over potential reforms of the democratic life within the Union, thereby facilitating greater political participation of European citizens in the decision-making process.

It is a great mistake, however, that Juncker rules out institutional reform for the near future. We believe that current policy shortcomings of the EU are to an important degree due to inadequate institutions, while institutional change could contribute to ending paralysis and inaction. If Juncker wants to hold Democratic conventions, those must be meaningful and purposeful for the development of a new institutional framework. Moreover, we are concerned about Juncker’s only institutional idea, which is to merge the Commission and Council President roles: this change would result in in a weakening of the supranational nature of the EU and strengthen the Council’s role vis-à-vis the European Parliament.

A united Europe

We support greater unity and integration among our European countries by encouraging new Member States to join the successful flagship initiatives of the EU. In addition, the establishment of a European Social Standards Union to combat unfair competition among national social systems is worth exploring.

We also welcome that Juncker underlined the importance of rapid reform of the Economic and Monetary Union, but regret that his proposals fall short of the more ambitious ideas recently put forward by the French government. The transformation of the intergovernmental European Stability Mechanism into a European Monetary Fund within the Union framework would be a positive step. However, questions about the governance, objectives and tasks of the fund remain to be answered. Similarly, we can only welcome the introduction of a Eurozone budget. This budget must, however, be separate from the general Union budget to avoid issues of democratic legitimacy. Juncker unfortunately remains silent on the size and the use of a Eurozone budget, therefore avoiding important discussions on, for example, the introduction of a European Unemployment Insurance and investment programmes. We fully agree with the appointment of a European Minister of Economy and Finance, who would be chairing the Eurogroup and be a member of the European Commission. Juncker missed a chance to make clear that the EU Finance Minister shall be tasked not only with the coordination of economic policy but also with the application of an EMF and the programmes pursuant to a Eurozone budget.

Some shortcomings

Nonetheless, if Juncker always rightfully reminds us about the successes of the European project, we believe he tends to praise too quickly positive developments and good-hearted attempts while neglecting essential remaining problems.

When declaring the European economy is bouncing back with millions of newly created jobs and positive growth rate, the Commission President forgets that too many young people in Europe are still suffering from high unemployment rates and a gloomy outlook for their future life and career.

When proudly reporting the good management of the refugee crisis by the European Border and Coast Guard and Italy, he prefers to underline by how much the influxes of migration into Europe were curbed.  If President Juncker really wanted a Union of values, he should start by not only condemning the inhumane living conditions of migrants in Libya but also the reception standards in some of our Member States. JEF Europe also advocates ending the EU-Turkey Agreement which is in opposition to international humanitarian law. A real pan-European response with efficient mechanisms for reception and integration is still desperately needed.

In the same vein, congratulating ourselves for reaching the Paris Agreement, while not putting into place policies that would realistically reach the Paris target levels is dishonest and falls short of Europe’s ambition to be a global leader in the fight against climate change. The European Commission must set up a comprehensive approach towards this challenge, including measures and public investments with real leverage in the fields of renewable energy, agriculture, waste management, education and innovative research among many others.