The European Commission President has painted an ambitious image of a federalist Europe during his state of the union address, urging the EU to “catch the wind in its sails.” But outside Brussels, Jean-Claude Juncker’s plans will face uncompromising opponents as well as hidden reservations among stated allies.
Among the key proposals put forward by Juncker were compulsory Euro membership for the remaining eight European states outside the bloc, for new countries to join the Schengen zone, plans for closer defensive cooperation leading to the creation of a European army in the next decade and easier ratification of EU-wide trade treaties with foreign powers.
Juncker has also resurrected the idea of merging his own post with that of the President of the European Council, who currently represents the interests of its member state governments, saying it would be easier if “one captain was steering the ship.” Such as president would be chosen in an EU-wide vote. A powerful new EU-wide economy minister has also been touted, one which would have power to whip dissenters in line with a common EU vision.
The most predictable opponent of the hour-long speech, met with stirring applause, was UK MEP Nigel Farage.
“The message is very clear: Brexit has happened, new steam ahead… More Europe in every single direction and all to be done without the consent of the people,” Farage told the floor.
“The way you’re treating Hungary and Poland already must remind them of living under the Soviet communists. All I can say is thank God we’re leaving because you’ve learned nothing from Brexit.”
Juncker laid out full integrationist agenda: political, economic and military. If we had voted Remain this would now be our agenda too!
— Gerard Batten MEP (@GerardBattenMEP) September 13, 2017
As Juncker announces a sweeping power grab for #EU no-one seems remotely concerned about the requirements for a new treaty. RIP democracy
— Diane James (@DianeJamesMEP) September 13, 2017
While Junker suggested that Donald Trump’s isolationism gave the EU a “window of opportunity” to become the world leader, a member of Poland’s Eurosceptic ruling PiS party suggested the plan is optimistic in view of the ongoing crisis with migration, unemployment, stagnation and terrorism.
“We need to get the EU’s house in order before there can even be a discussion on centralizing even further,” said Ryszard Legutko, a PiS MEP.
Opposition also came from members of the European parliament’s left-wing coalitions.
“When I listen to [Juncker’s speech] with the ears of many people who feel left behind by the current macroeconomic policies that we have, then I have my doubts because he still pushes for free trade deals that basically are tailor-made for multinationals,” Philippe Lamberts, of the Greens-European Free Alliance group told the Daily Express.
But the most detailed and principled attack on Juncker’s plans came from Harald Vilimsky, of Austria’s Freedom Party, which prompted Juncker to leave mid-speech.
“What Mr Junker wants de facto is to force the European union into a single state, and we know that the euro is not a success story. The second thing Mr Junker wants is de facto to actually get rid of all the internal borders, we see 10,000, 100,000, millions of African and Arabs are going to be coming to our continent,” said Vilimsky, who serves as the vice-chair of the Europe of Nations and Freedom party within the European Parliament.
“They talk about having a defense union, but no we don’t want that. What we want is Austrians, we’re a neutral country in Austria, we do not want to participate in the defense union. The right road for Europe can only be the road where there is more democracy left to the people, more democracy left to the citizens where people can vote whether or not they want to have Schengen maintained or not, whether they want their borders or not. The vote has to be left to the citizen.”