The speech of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in the European Parliament on September 13 shows, that the leadership of the European Union is trying to save itself, says Valdai Club expert Alexander Rahr. In his opinion, many of Juncker's proposals a priori are hopeless and only confirm that the Chairman of the European Commission went “all-in”.
The EU is now experiencing the most difficult period since its establishment. "Brexit, possible exit of Greece from the EU, populist movements in Europe, economic difficulties (some countries cannot escape the financial crisis), growing confrontation with the US, sanctions against Russia, and the most important problem, the lack of solidarity among the European Union members on refugees. Everywhere you look, there are problems," Alexander Rahr, Research Director of the German-Russian forum, said in an interview with valdaiclub.com, commenting Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union Address 2017.
In conditions of total uncertainty, the EU leadership decided to set a new tone. "I would say that it is rather a cry of despair: 'Let's do everything not only to save, but also to strengthen the European Union!'" the expert said.
According to Rahr, the EU has only two ways to go forward. The first is to continue to fight for the creation of the United States of Europe. "The generation of Jean-Claude Juncker believes in this, Angela Merkel believes in this," Rahr said. "This is what they wanted to create over the past 25 years."
The second way is decentralization of decision-making, giving part of the powers to national states, to make the European Union a purely economic alliance, as it was originally, flourishing throughout the 1950s-1980s until it became a political union in the 1990s.
"Junker wants to stop all the talk about the suspension of the creation of the United States of Europe. Using all the levers, the last available reserves that are left in the EU, he tries fulfil this idea. What is needed for this? The strengthening of the powers of Brussels," Alexander Rahr said.
Speaking in the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker proposed to unite the post of the European Commission President with the post of EU head, the President of the European Council. "Having a single President would better reflect the true nature of our European Union as both a Union of States and a Union of citizens," Juncker said, adding, "Europe would function better".
"The president of the European Council is a very strong post," said Alexander Rahr. - I am sure that this proposal will not be supported. Having made this statement, Junker went “all-in”. The fact is that other countries of the European Union would demand more powers to themselves than give them to Brussels”.
Another statement by Junker of the economic nature is that the euro become an effective currency throughout the European Union. This thesis is also challenged by many experts, Rahr said. "There is a reason, why some countries did not want to join the Eurozone– they are reluctant that "strong" countries outbid them. They want sovereignty [of their economy], they want to preserve their national currencies. England is the best example where the euro is unthinkable. But there are other countries with the same thinking", the expert said.
Wind in Our Sails? The State of the European Union
On 13 September Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, delivered his State of the European Union (SOTEU) to the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg. In what has become an annual event openly modelled on the American president’s speech to Congress each January, the Commission President uses the opportunity to take stock of events of the past year and give some insight into what direction the EU may take in the following 12 months and beyond. Juncker began this year’s SOTEU by confidently claiming that the EU had turned the corner on its many recent challenges and now “had the wind in our sails” to address a series of institutional, policy and political questions.
Currently, the Eurozone does not include Hungary, Denmark, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Czech Republic, Sweden, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. "The Junker's proposal is purely political, not economic. There is a risk that some countries will take the euro under pressure, but they will not cope with too harsh criteria. And the EU will not only keep Greece hanging on its neck, which actually is bankrupt and supports its life artificially, but also other countries, inexperienced in financial matters, such as Romania and Bulgaria. They can only intensify the crisis [inside the EU]," the expert said.
So why did Junker put forward a proposal that is knowingly hopeless from an economic point of view? According to Rahr, this again is evidence that the European Commission Chairman went “all-in”.
In Juncker's speech, there were many general words about the need to strengthen the EU. They sound good, Rahr believes, but they do not contain even a small portion of self-criticism, which is necessary as a reaction to Euroscepticism, which is growing in Europe.
"These are not some marginalized people who ceased to believe in the European Union, there are large movements in many countries, where populists and Eurosceptics are coming to power. By the way, according to public opinion polls, the Eurosceptical "Alternative for Germany" party can take the third place in the upcoming elections [to the Bundestag on September 24]," the expert said.
According Alexander Rahr, Jean-Claude Juncker and the European bureaucrats must understand this, but they turn a blind eye to what is happening and believe that it is necessary to strengthen the movement towards political integration.