Juncker wants Europe to show more courage

In his last State of the Union Address, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has appealed to the EU's sense of self-confidence. Europe must "become a more sovereign actor on the world stage" and take its future into its own hands, the EU Commission president stressed. Commentators focus on what they view as the EU's most pressing problems.

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Sydsvenskan (SE) /

Free trade with Africa is the way to go

Juncker's appeal for improved trade relations with Africa is justified, Sydsvenskan explains:

“From a historical perspective the EU's relations with Africa have hardly been characterised by openness. In addition to direct tariffs on African goods, the Union's agricultural subsidies have kept global market prices artificially low with the result that African farmers are not competitive. ... But it's time to see opportunities instead of problems. Increasing trade with African countries could help to reduce migration across the Mediterranean. Free trade with Africa offers possibilities for the EU to strengthen its position in the global economy. ... 'Africa does not need charity, it needs true and fair partnerships. And Europe needs this partnership just as much', Juncker stressed. This insight should immediately lead to a major free trade agreement.”

Mérce (HU) /

Migrants are not the problem

The refugee issue is not the biggest problem the EU faces, writes János Kendernay, member of the board of the Hungarian Green Party, on website Mérce:

“Europe is off balance. In the last enlargement process the number of member states almost doubled. The EU 'gained' more than 10 million new citizens and several underdeveloped regions with weak economies. The tensions between the centre and the periphery have become more pronounced, not only in the crisis of 2008. And we face a new mountain of problems which we call free movement of labour whereas in reality we're worried about being drained of workers. That's nothing other than the exploitation of resources on Europe's periphery.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

EU is stronger than some might think

Despite Brexit and the urgent need to reform the European Monetary Union journalist Xavier Vidal-Folch is optimistic about the future in his guest commentary for La Repubblica:

“Those who want to inject the euro with new vitality will not be deterred by those who keep emphasising its current shortcomings. ... As regards Brexit, the result depends on the degree of chaos in British politics. But reason seems to be regaining the upper hand against irrationality. The proponents of a soft Brexit have launched a campaign against those who want a hard one. There is hope that the negotiations will be extended, and - as we know - the EU has plenty of experience with endless negotiations and striking deals in the small hours.”

Kristeligt Dagblad (DK) /

The European Union's dilemma

The editor-in-chief of Kristeligt Dagblad Erik Bjerager explains how to secure the future of the EU:

“Only a balance between nation states and European cooperation can offer the world a model for stability and for respect for democracy and human rights. ... The EU Parliament's massive criticism of Hungary reflects this dilemma. In particular the Eastern European countries are busy securing their national distinguishing features which were under threat during Soviet times. For them the EU was a guarantee for the survival of the nation state, not the path to its dissolution. The EU is heading into a new era and deserves support amidst all the criticism. There are no alternatives to European cooperation.”

Jornal i (PT) /

Fear is never a good advisor

Only a self-confident Germany will be good for the EU's development, socialist MEP Carlos Zorrinho stresses in Jornal i:

“Not so long ago EU member states like Portugal had good reason to criticise Berlin's arrogant approach to solving problems in the EU. In particular because it often ignored the solidarity and convergence strategy that would have made the imposed solutions more consistent. Today we face the opposite situation: Germany seems crippled regarding important political decisions like migration management, EU security or trade liberalisation. ... The EU has no reason to be afraid and Germany in particular must pluck up the courage to take the lead in implementing the EU reform agenda.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Europe must become more powerful

Juncker is right to appeal for a stronger EU, NRC Handelsblad argues:

“Europe is not only a single market but also an important actor on the international stage. Yet it shies away from defining itself as such. It likes to vaunt its soft power, but it must become more self-confident. ... Juncker was right to try to boost Europe's self-confidence. Unity is not just a boon in ideal terms, it's also a power factor. ... It's illusory to believe that the EU will soon be a powerful player. But it's high time it learned to think in terms of power and political action. This is crucial for it to defend its interests. The battle over values and norms must now be waged both inwardly and outwardly. If the EU doesn't do that, who will?”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Orbán has things easier than Juncker

Bartosz T. Wieliński, head of Gazeta Wyborcza's foreign desk, compares the Orbán's Europe with that of Juncker:

“I listened to Juncker talk for an hour about his programme for the coming eight months. You can't say he was captivating. ... In Orbán's rhetoric, by contrast, Europe arouses emotions: it's an enemy, a club of the strong that squeezes out the weaker countries, produces conspiracies and wants to force its views down people's throats. ... This Europe, or rather the contempt for it, is easy to sell. ... But Orbán's Europe is nothing but a promise to tear down the existing order with no guarantee that anything will emerge in its place. Juncker's Europe is neither thrilling nor perfect. But it's real, and it works.”

Público (PT) /

An eternal lament

Out of touch with reality is how Público's Brussels correspondent Teresa de Sousa describes Juncker's speech:

“At best it was a long lament about the state of the EU. At worst it is a symptom of a political blindness more prevalent among the Brussels Eurocracy than anywhere else. ... But nothing can justify his being this much out of touch with reality. ... He talks about defence - but not about the threats. ... He warns against nationalism - but doesn't mention Hungary even once. ... He talks of a 'strong and united' Europe - at a time when Europe is more weakened and divided than ever before. Euractiv put it like this: 'Juncker is looking outwards in order to forget the problems at home.'”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Speech on the Union's crisis

Juncker's speech was a sad performance in the opinion of Tages-Anzeiger:

“The situation in Hungary or Poland says more about the true state of affairs than Juncker's State of the Union speech. It seems it's more a crisis situation he should have described. At this year's annual fixed appointment before the EU Parliament the gap between the goal and the reality was particularly large. ... Unlike the US president, from whom the Europeans copied the idea of the State of the Union speech, all Juncker can do is make proposals and hope that the member states will go along with them. He loves Europe and always will, the Commission chief said. That sounded very much like a legacy.”

L'Echo (BE) /

Europeans deserve a proper debate

Juncker wants to differentiate between reasonable Eurosceptics and inveterate extremists. L'Echo praises his position as

“a refusal to frame the EU elections as a sterile opposition between the Europe of values and the Europe of small-minded nationalisms. ... Eight months before the elections, a vast majority of Europeans remain firmly attached to their European citizenship, take an optimistic view of Europe's future, and put more trust in Europe's institutions than in those of their own country. They deserve a fundamental debate on the challenges that only a united Europe can face efficiently: stabilising the regions in its immediate proximity, defending multilateralism, and preventing environmental collapse.”