The Malta Independent 16 June 2019, Sunday

Updated: State of the Union - 'A united Europe is a force to be reckoned with'

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 12 September 2018, 08:50 Last update: about 10 months ago

The importance of a united Europe, ensuring solidarity, and working together for Europe to strengthen its international position were some of the key points in European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's State of the Union speech this morning. 

One of the proposals he made was for an additional 10,000 European border guards by 2020, while also stressing that temporary solidarity between member states is not good enough.

During another part of his speech, Juncker said that "European sovereignty can never be to the detriment of others. Europe is a continent of openness and tolerance. It will remain so. Europe will never become a fortress turning its back on the world, Europe must and will remain a multilateral continent as the world belongs to everyone, not just the few," the European Commission President said in his last State of the Union address.


Every year in September, the President of the European Commission delivers his State of the Union Address before the European Parliament, taking stock of achievements of the past year and presenting priorities for the year ahead. The President also sets out how the European Commission will address the most pressing challenges the European Union is facing. The speech is followed by a plenary debate.

Juncker said that work will continue over the coming months to ensure that the imperfect union becomes a little more perfect each day.

He said that Europe must be a place where freedom of the press is sacrosanct. "Too many of our journalists are intimidated, attacked or even murdered. We must do more to protect our democracy and its agents - the free and fair press." In Malta, journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was brutally assassinated last year. Three people have been accused of her murder however many argue that the person who ordered the killing has yet to be found.

The European commission President said that sometimes history thrusts itself into the life of nations without prior warning. "This is what happened in WW1, catching the continent off-guard. In 1913 Europeans expected to live through a lasting peace, yet war descended the next year." He said that he is not suggesting we are on the verge of a similar catastrophe, but said that the EU is a bringer of peace, and that the EU brought peace to the continent. "Let us show more respect to the EU, not sully its image. Let us embrace a type of patriotism not directed against others and decry kneejerk nationalism which attacks others and seeks scapegoats."

The State of the Union in 2018, he said, is that Europe has gotten past the financial crisis. He said there are 239 million people at work in Europe, and that youth unemployment is still too high, even though it is at the lowest level since 2000.  He said that the Juncker Plan has triggered €335 billion worth of public and private investment.

"A united Europe is a force to be reckoned with. Some were surprised by my agreement with Donald Trump. But it should be no surprise that Europe succeeds when it speaks with one voice."

Climate change

He said that Europeans want to leave a cleaner climate for future generations, and backed CO2 emissions cuts for 2030. Juncker said that some choose to ignore climate change, but that "we must look to the future. The clock is ticking and with the world more volatile, challenges to our continent increase day by day"

Turning to international situations and conflict, he said: "The world has not stopped turning. It is more volatile than ever. The external challenges facing our continent are multiplying by the day. There can therefore be not a moment's respite in our efforts to build a more united Europe. Europe can export stability, as we have done with the successive enlargements of our Union. For me, these are and will remain success stories - for we were able to reconcile Europe's history and geography. But there is more to be done. We must find unity when it comes to the Western Balkans - once and for all. Should we not, our immediate neighbourhood will be shaped by others."

"What is happening in Idlib in Syria now must be of deep and direct concern to us all. We cannot remain silent in face of this impending humanitarian disaster, which appears now all but inevitable"

"The conflict in Syria is a case in point for how the international order that served Europeans so well after the Second World War is being increasingly called into question. In today's world, Europe can no longer be certain that words given yesterday can still be counted on today. That old alliances may not look the same tomorrow."

Only a strong united Europe can save jobs

"A Europe that works for peace, trade agreements and stable currency relations, even as some become more prone to trade and currency wars. I am not in favour of a selfish unilateralism that defies expectations and dashes hopes. I will always champion multilateralism. If Europe were to unite all the political, economic and military might of its nations, its role in the world could be strengthened. We will always be a global payer but it is time we started being a global player too. This is why - despite great resistance at the time - I reignited the idea of a Europe of Defence as early as 2014. And this is why I will continue to work day and night over the next months to see the European Defence Fund and Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence become fully operational. Allow me to clarify one important point: we will not militarise the European Union."

"What we want is to become more autonomous and live up to our global responsibilities. Only a strong and united Europe can protect our citizens against threats internal and external - from terrorism to climate change. Only a strong and united Europe can protect jobs in an open, interconnected world. Only a strong and united Europe can master the challenges of global digitisation. That is what's at stake in the May 2019 elections. Between now and then, we must get the message across that when we act together the EU can achieve results. Till the elections, we must show that Europe can overcome differences between north and south, east and west. Europe is too small to split itself up. We need to show that together we are able to plant the seeds of a more sovereign Europe."

"It is because of our single market - the largest in the world - that we can set standards for big data, artificial intelligence, and automation. And that we are able to uphold Europeans' values, rights and identities in doing so. But we can only do so if we stand united."

He said that it will interest EU citizens that companies pay taxes where they make their profits. "Voters want a lot from you. They want to know that the proposal will become a reality. If Europeans are interested in what we want to do on plastics, we need an EU law which cements the ban on plastics. We all declare, in fine speeches, that we want to be more ambitious in big issues and less in smaller things."

"We must protect our free and fair elections. This is why we are proposing new rules to better protect our democratic processes from manipulation by third countries or private interests."

He spoke about new initiatives to combat terrorism. "Terrorists know no borders. Europeans rightly expect their Union to keep them safe. This is why we are proposing new rules to get terrorist content off the web within one hour." On the Public Prosecutor's Office, he said: "we are proposing to extend the tasks of the newly established European Public Prosecutor's Office to include the fight against terrorist offences. We need to be able to prosecute terrorists in a more coordinated way, across our Union. Terrorists know no borders. We cannot allow ourselves to become unwitting accomplices because of our inability to cooperate."


 Juncker addressed the migration situation, and mentioned a reduction in migrants coming through the central migration routes, while also speaking about solidarity issues between EU states. "Leadership and a spirit of compromise are of course very much needed when it comes to migration. We have made more progress than is often acknowledged. Five of the seven Commission's proposals to reform our Common European Asylum System have been agreed. Our efforts to manage migration have borne fruit: arrivals have been drastically reduced - down 97% in the Eastern Mediterranean and 80% in the Central Mediterranean. EU operations have helped rescue over 690,000 people at sea since 2015." 

He added that solidarity must be upheld by all EU states if Europe want to retain the Schengen area without internal borders. He said that where internal borders exist, they must be removed as keeping them would be a backward step in Europe.

He said that Europe cannot always talk about ad-hoc solutions whenever there is a new ship, adding there needs to be more lasting and organised solidarity.

"Temporary solidarity is not good enough. We need lasting solidarity. For a balanced migration reform we propose to: strengthen the EU Border Guard, develop the European Asylum Agency, accelerate the return of irregular migrants, open legal pathways."

Additional 10,000 European border guards by 2020

"We propose to further strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard to better protect our external borders with an additional 10,000 European border guards by 2020."

He called for the further opening of legal routes of migration to Europe, stressing that the continent is in need of qualified migrants. He said Africa does not need charity, but a true and balanced partnership. "I believe we should develop the numerous European-African trade agreements into a continent-to-continent free trade agreement, as an economic partnership between equals."

"Today, we are proposing a new Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs between Europe and Africa. This Alliance - as we envision it - would help create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next 5 years alone. We want to create a framework that brings more private investment to Africa. We are not starting from scratch: our External Investment Plan, launched two years ago, will mobilise over €44 billion in both the public and private investment. Alone the projects already in the pipeline will unlock €24 billion. We want to focus our investment where it matters the most. By 2020, the EU will have supported 35,000 African students and researchers with our Erasmus programme. By 2027, this figure should reach 105,000. Trade between Africa and Europe is not insignificant. 36% of Africa's trade is with the European Union. This compares to 16% for China and 6% for the United States. But this is not enough."


Turning to Brexit, he said that the someone who leaves the union cannot be in the same position as a member state, and that if you leave the union you cannot be part of the single market, "especially not only in parts of it."

He said that the EU shows solidarity with Ireland with regards to the Irish Boarder, and they want to prevent a hard border with Northern Ireland. "It is Brexit that is making that border more visible, not the EU. "

"After 29 March 2019, the UK will never be an ordinary third country for us, it will always be a very close neighbour and partner in political, economic and security terms. He supports the idea of a 'free trade area' between the EU and the UK."

Monetary union

On the monetary union, he said that initiatives will be implemented to strengthen the international role of the Euro. "Within 20 years, the euro has become the second most used currency in the world. We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene."

Turning his sights on China, he said that it is not right that our Union silenced itself when it came to condemning human rights abuses by China due to the objection of one state. "The Commission is proposing to move to qualified majority voting in specific areas of our external relations." 

"I also think we should be able to decide on certain tax matters by qualified majority."


He spoke of the importance of respecting and implementing EU Court of Justice decisions. He said that respecting the rule of law and abiding their decisions are not an option but an obligation.

Turning to international diplomacy, he said: "we are all responsible for the Europe of today and must take responsibility for the Europe of tomorrow... Europe can no longer be a spectator of international events, but must become an active player, an architect of tomorrow's world. There is a strong demand for Europe throughout the world and to meet such a demand we must speak with one voice."

"Europe's diplomacy must be conducted in the singular. From now on I would like us to bring the East and West of Europe and put an end to the sorry spectacle of the divide of Europe."

"I would like us to say no to unhealthy nationalism and yes to enlightened patriotism"

"In order to stand on its own two feet, European nations must move forward as one. To love Europe is to love its nations. To love your nation is to love Europe. Patriotism is a virtue but unchecked nationalism is a poison. Let us say no to unhealthy nationalism and embrace enlightened patriotism."

President Juncker's speech in the European Parliament was accompanied by the adoption of 18 concrete initiatives by the European Commission on migration and borders, security, free and secure elections, the European Union's partnership with Africa and the EU as a global actor, putting words immediately into action. These proposals are intended to help deliver positive results for citizens by the time of the Sibiu Summit in May 2019 and ahead of the 2019 European elections.

Key proposals of the 2018 State of the Union Address

Security: New rules to get terrorist content off the web; measures for securing free and fair European elections; A reinforced European Public Prosecutor's Office to fight cross-border terrorism; and initiatives to invest in cybersecurity.

Migration and border reform: A reinforced European Union Agency for Asylum; A fully equipped European Border and Coast Guard; Stronger EU rules on return; Legal migration.

Africa and External Investment: A new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs; A more efficient financial architecture for investment outside the EU.

Common Foreign and Security Policy: Improving the efficiency of decision-making.

Seasonal clock changes: Commission proposes to put an end to seasonal clock changes.

Anti-Money Laundering: Stronger anti-money laundering supervision for a stable banking and financial sector.



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