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ANALYSIS Juncker's EU speech: Wind in his sails or 'federalist daydreaming'? By Emoke Bebiak and Naveena Kottoor, dpa

Europe
13.09.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Lofty language is a key trademark of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker‘s speeches. His third state of the union was no different, but this time, his ambition might help ease tensions between new and old member states.

Brussels (dpa) - "The wind is back in Europe‘s sails."

That was European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker‘s message to a packed European Parliament.

After coming in as chief of the commission three years ago, Juncker was forced into crisis management mode: the Greek financial crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis and Britain‘s decision to leave the bloc prompted soul-searching in Brussels and Europe‘s capitals.

Many were wondering whether the union would hold together.

So this year‘s speech was very much an opportunity for Juncker to set out a more positive, less gloomy vision for the future of the bloc.

And lofty it was. Juncker called for all EU member states to adopt the euro and for a European version of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as said that he is planning to propose the screening of foreign investments originating from outside the EU.

"Through thick and thin, I have never lost my love of Europe," Juncker said in a speech full of pathos.

But for now, it seems unclear whether Juncker‘s love will be reciprocated.

Pieter Cleppe‘s verdict: "There is a lot of unrealistic federalist daydreaming."

Cleppe is head of the Brussels office of Open Europe, a think tank.

"The speech was out of touch with what‘s happening in many countries," he says, adding that while many people were not necessarily anti-EU, they feel that "the bloc has overreached and the EU needs to be more humble."

Cleppe is equally sceptical about Juncker‘s plans to carry out a "deep examination" if a foreign company wants to buy a "strategic" business.

While Juncker did not mention China by name, the measure would be a response to shared concerns in Germany, France and Italy that Chinese investment in Europe dwarfs flow the other way.

The three countries applauded Juncker‘s plans quickly:

"The proposals of the European Commission ensure fair competition in the EU and also offer better protection against company acquisitions that do not comply with market rules," German Economics Minister Brigitte Zypries said in a statement.

"We need to prevent other states from taking advantage of our openness in order to push through their industrial policy interests," she continued.

For French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, the proposal marks just the beginning.

The proposal is an "important first step towards fairer competition and a level playing field at a global level," he said in a statement.

But Cleppe warns of this kind of "protectionist" approach and says that "countries that want to invest in Europe should be welcomed, instead of being restrained."

"We should look at the interests of European consumers, not to exporters only - and that would mean to ensure as much competition and choice as possible."

Juncker‘s call for all EU member states to eventually join the eurozone was shrugged off by senior members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democrats, both at home and in Strasbourg.

Markus Ferber, a senior German deputy on the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that "accession must not be forced by political decree."

"The example of Greece showed what can happen when economic realities are ignored due to political overzealousness and a eurozone accession is flippantly given the green light," he said.

Markus Soeder, finance minister in Germany‘s state of Bavaria, went even further:

"That‘s the wrong proposal at the wrong time," he told Germany‘s Die Welt newspaper, adding that the idea of Bulgaria and Romania joining the eurozone was "absurd."

But while some brush aside Juncker‘s speech as unrealistic rhetoric, others say it was a pivot to Central and Eastern Europe, at a time of tensions between Brussels and Warsaw, Budapest and Prague over how to apply union law.

"He spoke out against a multispeed and differentiated Europe, which seems to be a trend in European capitals," says Daniela Schwarzer, the director of the research institute of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

"In many capitals, differentiation seems to be a quick fix."

"I find it interesting that he spoke out pretty strongly against that, but not only on a conceptual level, but he actually said what should happen," Schwarzer says, referring to Juncker‘s call to include Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria in the Schengen area and to expand the eurozone.

So while it looks unlikely that the EU is ready to "throw off the bowlines" and start ambitious integration projects, Juncker‘s speech might have helped to restore a sense of unity and common purpose.

 

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