How visionary is Juncker's speech?

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wants all EU countries to convert to the euro and join the Schengen Area. In his annual State of the Union address he also spoke out in favour of creating an EU finance minister post. Juncker concentrated on feasible reforms, some commentators write in praise. For others his proposals are already behind the times.

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El País (ES) / 15 September 2017

Sensible and practicable ideas

Juncker's plans display admirable pragmatism, writes El País:

“Juncker's concrete proposals have two advantages: they can be quickly implemented without the treaties having to be changed and they respond to the need to strengthen the shared institutions by standardising the labour and financial regulations so that the common market becomes more than just a concept. … The major hurdle is, as always, getting the Council to accept the ambitious proposals. Everyone is waiting impatiently for new impetus from Berlin and a reinforced alliance with Macron's France.”

Finanz und Wirtschaft (CH) / 15 September 2017

Juncker a relic of the past

Juncker's visions for Europe are obsolete, Finanz und Wirtschaft criticises:

“Countries like Poland and Sweden should introduce the common currency on the double, Schengen should apply for all, an EU finance minister is imperative, Brussels needs more money. What's also striking is that like others, Juncker often cockily talks of 'Europe' when he actually means the EU. The head of the EU executive is a relic of the past, not at all in tune with the times. The events of recent years have done nothing to shake his faith. What the EU - and indeed all of Europe - really needs, what makes it what it is, is diversity. As recently as March the EU itself presented flexible models that corresponded to this reality.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) / 15 September 2017

Eurozone needs new framework

Juncker neglected the Eurozone in his speech, economist Alberto Quadrio Curzio writes in Il Sole 24 Ore:

“There is a lack of proposals for strengthening the Eurozone, which should not be based on the German-French axis alone. ... The Eurozone's strength is based solely on the single currency (for which ECB President Draghi is responsible). It should at the very least be bolstered by a financial institution - specifically, a new European Stability Mechanism (ESM). The ESM's action radius must be extended to encompass the real economy, common defence and non-European activities.”

Spiegel Online (DE) / 13 September 2017

Bullish euro expansion helps right-wing populists

Europe should not be united through a common currency, writes Spiegel Online:

“The currency binds an economic dwarf like Greece to an economic giant like Germany. Neither side has been made happy by this bond in recent years. ... The single currency makes it impossible for the Southern Europeans to improve their competitiveness through devaluations rather than cutbacks. ... By stubbornly persisting with this plan, Juncker is reinforcing two prejudices about the EU: first, that this union of states is mainly interested in pushing through economic interests. Second, that Brussels always has the same answer to crises: more integration no matter what the consequences. And finally, this image of an almighty EU that is unwilling to adapt helps the cause of the right-wing populists.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) / 14 September 2017

With 27 helmsmen the ship can't move forwards

Because Juncker wants to keep everyone happy his plans for the EU's future have no prospect of succeeding, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung predicts:

“The determination to preserve the unity of the 27 member states is forcing Juncker to perform a balancing act. He appeals for more free trade but also wants to keep the protectionists happy with regulations on worker mobility and proposals for protection from foreign investment. … Such manoeuvres can only thinly disguise the diverging economic interests, political goals and ultimately values in the 27 member states. Resistance to Juncker's plans is inevitable. Unlike a year ago there is no acute risk of the European ship capsizing. But it will have a hard time moving forwards as long as the 27 helmsmen are heading in different directions.”

Primorske novice (SI) / 14 September 2017

An EU of elites and bureaucrats

There were no surprises in Commission President Juncker's speech, Primorske novice concludes:

“The major political groups, the largest member states, the economic elite and the Brussels bureaucrats spoke through Juncker. … The EU will take away another piece of the nation states' sovereignty. Yes, this will all be based on equal opportunities and the rule of law. But convincing Europeans that the EU is about more than just a single market and a single currency will require more than just presenting different scenarios and media propaganda. It is vital that the highest-ranking representatives of Europe act as role models to convince the Europeans that the EU is also about shared values.”

Pravda (SK) / 14 September 2017

Europe getting back in shape

Pravda gives Juncker two thumbs up for his speech:

“From start to finish he dealt with the new prospects that will open up for the Union after Brexit. According to Juncker the summit that will take place in the Romanian city of Sibiu in March 2019 is to experience a stronger, more integrated Union. Anyone who wants to smooth out the imbalances and injustices needs more EU, not less. A European Finance Minister, for example, could be the forerunner of a fiscal union thanks to which disasters like the one in Greece could be solved more fairly - and more elegantly. ... The head of the Commission was in fine form in Strasbourg. Moreover: the EU is in fine form to move forward. Finally.”

The Irish Times (IE) / 14 September 2017

Justified optimism

Juncker's confidence regarding the EU is consistent with the facts, the Irish Times is convinced:

“The EU is in the fifth year of an economic recovery that has finally reached every member state, albeit to varying degrees. Its economic growth has outpaced that of the United States for the past two years and unemployment, ... is at a nine-year low overall. The union has managed to weather the euro zone and migration crises with its institutions intact, and the right-wing populist wave has receded for now. Brexit itself, while depriving the union of the UK's economic power and diplomatic clout, will also, by removing a semi-detached member that always stood at a remove from the integrationist centre, make the union more coherent.”

La Croix (FR) / 13 September 2017

Europe finally displaying ambition

Like Macron and Merkel in the past week, Juncker has also pointed to new possibilities for European cooperation, La Croix writes in delight:

“He proposed reviving the economy, bolstering social welfare, making the Eurogroup more efficient and protecting strategic sectors. What this list is clearly lacking is creative audacity. What it does have, however, is a real desire for progress. The most die-hard Europeans will perhaps be disappointed. But by all logic they too should also start to rejoice. Because just a year ago all of these ambitions would have seemed like no more than a chimera.”

Delo (SI) / 12 September 2017

Taking off the kid gloves

It's not enough for Juncker to sketch a pretty vision of Europe - he needs to take a hard line with the refractory members in Eastern Europe, Delo advises:

“In his last 'strong' state of the Union address Juncker won't just lay out the Union's short-term goals, he'll also hint at the contents of his political legacy. ... He won't be able to fulfil his mission if Hungary, Poland and other members that are currently following their own agendas are merely told - no matter how clearly - that their behaviour is completely unacceptable. They must also feel the consequences. Solidarity based on judicial rulings alone means nothing. Future assessments of Juncker's mandate will depend on what he achieves in the next few months.”

De Standaard (BE) / 12 September 2017

Beware of too much adventurousness

Using Brexit as an example political scientist Hendrik Vos warns in his column for De Standaard that daring plans could plunge the Union even deeper into crisis:

“Not much separates genius from madness. The Brits could tell you a thing or two about that. They allowed themselves to be taken in by people who dangled a make-believe world in front of their noses. ... It's already more than clear, however, that the Brexit story will end in a total fiasco. ... If the oh-so sober-minded Brits can run like lemmings to their own misfortune, why doesn't that happen even more frequently elsewhere? The answer is: there are buffers that normally come between a crazy plan and its implementation. Before politicians become too reckless the state apparatus steps in, tempers their plans and stabilises the situation. Normally, that is.”

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