State of the Union Speech- Juncker stresses investment, integration and greater unity in the EU
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker gave his annual speech before the European parliament in Strasbourg.
In his speech he touched upon the values of the European Union and noted that although it appears to be in an existential crisis the project must continue. He declared that although much progress had been made there was as yet not enough union in the union. Greater harmony needs to exist with and the interests of one member state should not trump the rest. However he was keen to state that the EU is not the United States of Europe and that what has brought the members together is their history.
He also proposed various policies which the union should pursue. These included:
- Europe will defend its borders with the new European Border and Coast Guard.
- A proposal for a common military force working with NATO.
- A defence of EU borders through a strengthening of FRONTEX border force in Bulgaria and Greece. Related to this is a continued fight against radicalisation and terrorism with an emphasis on keeping EU values of freedom and tolerance but also of not sacrificing security. He also mentioned a new Travel Information System, to be introduced by November so that authorities know in advance who is entering the EU from third countries.
- An ambitious Investment Plan for Africa in order to strengthen development in order to help discourage those who might risk dangerous journeys for a better life by helping to provide one in their own country.
- High investment in Europe’s youth aiding job seekers and start ups
- Journalists, publishers and authors should be paid fairly for their work, wherever it's made and shared.
- An interesting policy was a proposition for investment in the digital economy with the proposal for free wireless for every European village and city by 2020 and a fully deployed 5G network by 2025.
- Data protection notably stressing the privacy of individuals and their personal data
- A proposal for a positive agenda for the next 12 months to overcome the divisions between member states and to show that the EU can act jointly. He also stressed the need for Europe to be better explained with EU commissioners having visited national parliaments and an emphasis on showing that the EU is for member states, not against them.
- A reiteration of the EU’s fight against tax evasion and that the Commission is delivering in this fight.
On Brexit the president commented that he regretted the decision to leave the EU but respected it. He reiterated the Commission’s stated position of no access to the single market without freedom of movement and called for the triggering of article 50 as soon as possible in order to begin negotiations to leave.
The position of the European Conservatives on the president’s speech is that the president having stated “There’s not enough union in the EU,” has not delivered a relaunch of the EU but repeated fundamentally the same mantra we’ve heard year after year.
His call for a European army is very dangerous in today’s challenging world. An EU Army has no credibility with our potential enemies. At a time when defence budgets are starved, what is the sense in the EU creating wasteful new military structures that merely duplicate what already exists in NATO.
In response to his views on the UK leaving the EU our response is the UK will not be rushed into Brexit - it is how we leave, not when, that is important to securing the best deal for both Britain and the EU.
We welcome Juncker’s announcement of a €4.4bn investment plan for Africa to tackle the root causes of migration, based on Conservative MEP Nirj Deva’s recent report passed by the parliament advocating greater use of PPPs to lever in private capital.
We also support the strengthening of FRONTEX, which the UK is not part of but to which it has contributed expertise and equipment.
New proposals on roaming charges are expected next week after the debacle of the 90 day limit. We look forward to seeing the Commission’s fresh plans, but it is important that the wholesale industry is involved in the solution to avoid charges being passed on to all users.