Juncker lays out vision for Europe in last State of the Union speech

World Today

The President of the European Commission delivered his last State of the Union address in Strasbourg. From Brexit, to the economy, and to peace and stability, Jean-Claude Juncker laid out his vision for the next year.

CGTN’s Mariam Zaidi reports.

When Juncker took over the reins of the EU Commission in 2014, he promised that this would be “the commission of the last chance saloon.” That either Europe would reclaim its values to champion the will of the people or the bloc would falter.

But major crises during his tenure, from the economic downturn to migration and terrorism have created a vacuum for populists, extremists and nationalists across the block.

“External borders must be better protected. We propose an additional 10,000 European border guards by 2020,” said Juncker.

Juncker also detailed plans to create a free trade agreement with Africa, turning the historical relationship away from charity to real partnership.

On Brexit, he offered some support to embattled U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

“After 29 March 2019, the United Kingdom will never be an ordinary third country for us. The United Kingdom will always be a very close neighbor and partner, in political, economic and security terms,” said Juncker.

But was this the speech MEPs had come to hear?

“My god we are living in two different worlds. The number of people who are deeply dissatisfied with the European project is increasing,” said Ryszard Legutko, Chair of the European Conservatives and Reformist Group.” There has never a time in the history when Europe was more disunited then it is now.”

“I find it so terrifying that somebody here gives us lessons about unity in Europe and then trying with his government to go against rule of law,” said Guy Verhofstadt, Chair of the Liberals Group.

One stark victory Juncker left off the table is the deal he secured with U.S. President Donald Trump over the summer that averted a looming EU-U.S. trade war.

A Brussels-based analyst sees why: “I guess the reason why he did that is that this speech will also be listened to in Washington and I guess the one thing you don’t want is to give a triumphant speech that I won over Donald Trump,” said Guntram Wolff, Director of the Bruegel Economic think tank.

Also in Strasbourg on Wednesday, MEP’s triggered a motion against Hungary for violating core EU values for its crackdown on basic freedoms and rule of law. Sanctions now rest in the hands of member states.