A week after Theresa May activated the famous Article 50 – ‘the end begins’ – Juncker recognized that, overtime, he progressively lost the perception of the ‘erotic quality’ of power. A sad remark, without any doubt, but not a surprising one – given that the Èlisèeum Palace was still under the Front National’s siege and Buckingham Palace had just started the divorce practices. However, he acknowledged, in politics as in love, you can always find room for intuition – ‘these are the fucking moments’.
Today the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his annual speech at the State of the Union. He stressed that the Union, enjoying the fifth consecutive year of economic recovery and with no upcoming major threat from Euroskeptics, has a window of opportunity – which will not last forever. We should ‘make the most of the momentum’.
In the ‘White Paper’ about the future of Europe, published in March, Juncker outlined five possible scenarios for the next ten years – some of them rather gloomy. However, the most interesting one was the ‘those who want more do more’. It was basically an acknowledgement of the hot-debated ‘multi-speed Europe’, a scenario in which only qualified and willing countries proceed with further integration. Strongly endorsed by Macron, who advocates the Euro-area members to step up and share a finance minister and a parliament, this idea has not been excluded in Berlin either. The major downside is, it will most certainly worsen the East-West divide within the Union, abandoning those countries that need the most ‘an ever-closer Union’.
Today the President argued that there is no need for a Euro Area Parliament, nor for a Euro Area Finance minister. Indeed, every Member State will eventually adopt the common currency and join the progressive fiscal integration. Thus, we already have a European Parliament – which has to be strengthened – but we still lack our Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the roadmap he laid on, ‘the Economic and Monetary Union package of proposals’ is the first item of the list, to be addressed on December. Top priorities: creation of a common budget, of a European Monetary Fund, of a European Minister of Economy and Finance.
As far as Members are concerned, Juncker called for the inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in the Schengen area of free movement – a proposal warmly received by Bucharest and Sofia. Furthermore, he pushed for the advancement of the talks with Serbia and Montenegro for their successful accession to the Union.
Without indulging on the turbulent political environment abroad, he encouraged trade talks with Australia and New Zealand. However, he clarified immediately that we must not be ‘naïve free-traders’ and always defend our strategic interests – a not so subtle hint to the protection of European business against foreign (Chinese) takeovers.
No major ideas rose when dealing with migration. The president recognized and praised the role of Italy in the management of the crisis – which he had already done several times – and invited the Parliament to ease the legal migration requirements. Moreover, he stated very clearly that ‘the rule of law is not optional in the European Union. It is a must’ – a reference to recent challenge launched by Slovakia and Hungary to the European Court of Justice about migration quotas.
Then, Juncker called for more equality – in term of labor conditions, salaries and available consumer goods – among all Member States and for the creation of a Euro-accession Instrument, offering technical and even financial assistance for the adoption of the common currency.
In conclusion, we can be fairly sure that a multi-speed Europe is not on the top of the President agenda. On the contrary, what emerges from today’s State of the Union is that Brussels has no doubt about the future of the European Union: we need to act rapidly and with courage, remaining faithful with the original European dream, and not downgrade it to a fragmented consortium. We need to stick together, and go forward together, because ‘the wind is back in Europe's sails’. We just have to seize the moment – this is the time for intuition, this is the time for a fucking moment - and remember the confession of Jean-Claude: ‘through thick and thin, I have never lost my love of Europe’. We neither.