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Next 12 months crucial for EU, Juncker says

EU Commission president says the next twelve months will be decisive for the reunification the union and to deliver a better Europe • Proposes the setting up of a European defence force, a youth corps to aid in natural disasters and refugee crisis, a €44bn investment plan for Africa, 5G broadband for Europe and free wi-fi in Europe by 2020

14 September 2016, 9:26am
Jean-Claude Juncker
Jean-Claude Juncker
The European Union still does not have enough union, but at the same time it does not want to get rid of individual nation states, according to Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president.

In his ‘State of the European Union’ speech, Juncker insisted Europe was not going down the road of nationalisation.

“I think the next twelve months will be decisive if we want to reunite the union,” he said. “The next twelve months are crucial if we are to deliver a better Europe, a Europe that makes a better future, and to show why it is great to be the European Union.”

Juncker said Europe could not afford to become a colourless melting pot and that it should grow and draw from diversity.

He said that unemployment remains high across Europe, although since 2013, eight million jobs had been created.

“Europe is not social enough, we have to make that clear,” he said. “We have to work harder on social issues and social economic issues.”

To those who feared Brexit would be the beginning of the end of the European Union, he said the EU respected and regretted the decision of the British people.

“But the European Union is not at risk, not at all,” he said. “We would, however, be happy if the decision to start the Brexit negotiations could start as soon as possible.”

Juncker called on all member states and who have not yet done so, to ratify the Paris agreement on climate change.

“Basically, dragging our feet on ratification makes us look ridiculous,” he said.

He also insisted that the EU stood for fair playing fields and said workers should do the same work for the same pay in the any place.  

In a big swipe at Apple, he said: “A fair playing field also means consumers are protected from abuse by powerful companies – no matter how big or small, every company must pay its taxes when it makes its profits.”

The EU is currently locked in a bitter row with Apple after it ordered the tech giant to fork out €13bn in unpaid taxed to Ireland. 

Juncker said the Commission was fighting tax evasion, as he had promised he would, although many had not believed him.

As to integration, he said Europe could never accept Polish workers being harassed, beaten up or even murdered in the streets of Essex, in the UK, referring to the recent attack on a Polish man in Harlow. 

He spoke of how Europeans did not like being snooped on by drones flying over their homes or big companies “stock-piling every mouse-click” and the EU would pursue strong data protection policies.

And he said that the EU should be as robust as the US with China over the steel-dumping that has left thousands out of work.

He encouraged the expansion of high-speed broadband, proposing that 5G broadband be introduced throughout Europe and that free wi-fi be made available across Europe by 2020.

Juncker also announced an aid package worth billions of euros for investment for Africa, in part to try to curb levels of emigration to Europe, by tackling the issue at the source.

“We stand firmly against the death penalty and in favour of effective justice systems,” he said. “That is why Europe promotes the rule of law everywhere in Europe.”

He spoke of how Europeans did not like being snooped on by drones flying over their homes or big companies “stock-piling every mouse-click” and the EU would pursue strong data protection policies.

And he said that the EU should be as robust as the US with China over the steel-dumping that has left thousands out of work.

He encouraged the expansion of high-speed broadband, proposing that 5G broadband be available throughout Europe by 2022.

Juncker also announce an investment plan for Africa with potentially €44bn or up to €88bn being provided, ‘if countries contribute’ to the plan.

It aims to try to curb levels of emigration to Europe, by tackling the issue at the source.

He said that the EU had started to see solidarity when it came to managing the refugee crisis.

“I am convinced that much more solidarity is needed. But I also know that solidarity must be voluntary. It must come from the heart.”

He urged the Slovak presidency to bridge the divergences and differences between those who were reluctant to integrate refugees in their societies and those who are convinced “that a fair share in the relocation and resettlement is of the essence”.

“And I want to see at least 200 extra border guards and 50 extra vehicles deployed at the Bulgarian external borders as of October,” he said.

Juncker said the EU wanted to preserve its agricultural sector as a part of the European way of life.

“The Commission will stand by our funds and support farmers particularly when they go through difficult moments as is the case today,” he said. “Last year the diary sector was hit by the sanctions against Russia, and we mobilised one billion Euros to help milk farmers get back on their feet because I will not accept that milk is cheaper than water.”

Juncker also presented the Commission’s proposal to set a European solidarity corps for young people across the European Union who will be able to volunteer their help where it was needed most – to respond to crisis situations such as the refugee crisis.

He also proposed a reform of copyright laws, saying that creativity was crucial and should be safeguarded at protected.

“And I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work,” he said.

Following Juncker’s speech, Manfred Weber, chair of the EPP group, said: “Young people want to shape a common future. This is the message of Jean-Claude Juncker in his speech today.”

Gianni Pitella, chair of the S&D Group, said they would never support proposals that promoted austerity.

“President Juncker gave a high profile speech. He spoke very clearly about the post Brexit. He re-launched the investment plan. But he never pronounced the words austerity and I’m very grateful to him for that. ”

Syed Kamall, chair of the ECR group, said that the discontent with the EU, as demonstrated by the Brexit vote, went well beyond the English Channel.

“Our fear is that ‘Project Europe’ has been set to cruise control,” he said. “The more Europe you build, the more detached our citizens become.”

He said the debate should be about delivering security and opportunities for their constituents.

“We believe the EU can do less, but better,” he said.

Guy Verhofstadt, Belgian chair of the ALDE group, said: “Populists preach a false sense of security. A return to walls and fences. An illusion. What we need is supranational policies.”

Marine Le Pen, French co-chair of the ENF group, said: “What are you protecting us against?” asked Le Pen. “You are not stopping immigration, you are allowing for terrorism to run free. We have a destructive economic policy, which saves the Euro but not the people. It is making unemployment explode.”

Le Pen said people needed a new project and faith and only national communities could deliver that.

“Let us be democrats finally and let people decide their fate.”

She quickly qualified Juncker’s speech as “insipid and faulty” and went on to say: “This is basically like a funeral for the EU. You haven’t been paying attention to the ambitions of the people to retake their sovereignty and their independence. You can see that Brexit has broken a taboo that one can leave the EU and can come out better. The catastrophic visions were a lie.”

Nigel Farage, UK co-chair of the EFDD group, said that what the EU needed was a sensible common-sense approach and that the European Parliament needed to recognise that it had made a mistake and find somebody who actually liked the UK to lead the Brexit talks.”

”You are an EU nationalist,” he told Guy Verhofstadt, who was recently appointed as Parliament's representative to Brexit. “You want flags, anthems, and armies. You are a nationalist.”