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State of the Union address: for the future of Europe: Juncker’s “sixth route”

Speaking at the European Parliament the President of the EU Commission illustrated a set of projects and actions to relaunch political integration by the year 2025. Urgent issues on the agenda, populist pressure, a set of much-needed reforms also to draw the “common home” closer to its citizens. It’s not exactly a dream Europe, but it’s a small dream on the future of the EU

Europe is under the pressure of transnational challenges ranging from the economy, to migration, to terrorism, that involve us all. It is surrounded by miseries and armed conflicts with direct and indirect consequences on the Old Continent. It experiences new forms of internal divisions and national selfishness, especially on the part of the latest members of the “Common home.” Every day it is confronted with nationalistic drives, often deviously fuelled, aimed at sparking off division instead of unity: Brexit is its epitome. Yet in this Europe closed in on itself there is still time to nurture ambitions, projects, and dreams. The President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, shared his dream with MEPs gathered in Strasbourg.

The President holds firm. In his State of the Union address, delivered on Wednesday, September 13, Juncker said, after having illustrated some of the features of the recent economic recovery: “The wind is back in Europe’s sails. We now have a window of opportunity but it will not stay open forever. we should chart the direction for the future.” He then quoted Mark Twain: years from now we will be more disappointed by the things we did not do, than by the ones we did. For the Luxembourgish leader of the Executive, a concrete and experienced politician, “Now is the time to build a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe for 2025.″ As he delivered these words in the European Parliament several MEPs rolled their eyes. “He would do best to see what’s happening outside the palaces”, mumbled a Lithuanian MEP. “He’s describing a Europe that doesn’t exist”, reiterated a Portuguese representative. But Juncker holds firm. He won’t renounce his “dream”, and after having described, past spring, five possible EU scenarios on the “Future of the Union” in a much debated document within EU environments, in Strasbourg he illustrated the sixth scenario, a combination of projects, pivotal themes, visions and actions.

A busy agenda. “Ten years since crisis struck, Europe’s economy is finally bouncing back. And with it, our confidence.” He listed five priorities: strengthening the trade agenda, making industry stronger, fighting climate change, cyber-security, response to migrations. “Europe is and must remain the continent of solidarity where those fleeing persecution can find refuge”:

The Chamber was divided into EU supporters and Eurosceptics.

“I cannot talk about migration – he promptly added- without paying strong tribute to Italy for their tireless and noble work. Italy is saving Europe’s honour in the Mediterranean.” He went on addressing various issues ranging from support to Africa’s development, to the completion of the Energy Union, to the Solidarity Corps to the “Common Labour Authority.” The “social pillar” is mentioned in a few remarks. He voiced support to national vaccination efforts, criticized different public service and food quality standards in the various Countries. He called to open the Schengen area to Romania and Bulgaria, conveyed opposition to Turkey’s EU adhesion, and left the door open to the Western Balkans.

The captain of the ship. Major reforms and overarching projects are coupled by seemingly nonessential remarks: consumer protection is no less important than the fight on terrorism for it involves the daily life of 500 million European citizens. He then addressed the chapter of institutional reforms: “Europe would function better if we were to merge the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.”

 “One captain steering the ship” to signal its unity and indicate the common route.

For the next European Parliament elections he envisages transnational lists with political parties that focus on Europe and not only national squabbles. He then set an agenda that includes the completion of Brexit negotiations: “On 30 March 2019, we will be a Union of 27”, he went on to reprimand the Brits, who, he pointed out, “are bound to regret” their isolationist decision. He highlighted the onset of a “new phase” of community integration. Although European Parliament elections of June 2019 may still seem far away, for the head of the Executive they are just around the corner. “We have to prepare the Union of tomorrow, today.”

A divided Chamber. He then started daydreaming: “My hope is that on 30 March 2019, Europeans will wake up to a Union where we all stand by our values. Where all Member States firmly respect the rule of law and will show mutual solidarity. Where we have shored up the foundations of our Economic and Monetary Union so that we can defend our single currency”, with a single minister of the Economy and of Finance. “Now is not the time to err on the side of caution. Europe only moves forward when it is bold”, he said quoting two “fathers” like Helmut Kohl and Jacques Delors: by no coincidence a German and a Frenchman, the engine-Countries of the EU. At the end of the address, the Chamber is divided. Enthusiasts stand in a warm applause, supporters are tepid, detractors are noisy. Juncker may not have convinced all those present, but at least he tried to trace a course to relaunch the EU on the global scenario where each Country alone would count nothing. It may not be a dream Europe, but it’s a dream on the future of Europe.

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