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What is the state of Juncker's Union now?

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What is the state of Juncker's Union now?

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“Because our European Union is not in a good state.
There is not enough Europe in this Union.
And there is not enough Union in this Union.”

These were the words spoken by Jean-Claude Juncker one year ago in his first State of the Union speech since taking up the presidency of the European Commission.

It being his debut, Juncker could allow himself to make a blunt critique of the status quo; he had only just taken charge and had no record to defend. That will not be the case when he makes his second SotU speech on Wednesday.

But how true – or how hollow – do the words spoken 12 months ago sound now? What progress has been made on the objectives he set? Is the European Union any more European or more united than it was? Is it in a better state?

Let’s take a look at the main points of last year’s speech and compare the aspirations to the reality of today.

THE REFUGEE CRISIS

By Mark Davis

What Juncker said in September 2015:

“It is high time to act to manage the refugee crisis. There is no alternative to this….I call on Member States to adopt the Commission proposals on the emergency relocation of altogether 160,000 refugees…the Commission will come forward with a well-designed legal migration package in early 2016.”
“Where Europe has clearly under-delivered, is on common solidarity with regard to the refugees who have arrived on our territory.”

Where are we now?

The target was to resettle 160,000 refugees within the EU. To date fewer than 5,000 have been resettled. While the target was meant to be met within two years – we are only at the half-way point – the resettlement programme has still been slammed as an “abject failure by European leaders” by Amnesty International. The fault does not lie with the Commission per se, but rather in the lack of political will among member states to accept their quotas of refugees. When it comes to solidarity with regard to refugees, Europe continues to under-deliver. Many countries remain hostile to the idea of “migrant quotas” – Hungary is holding a referendum on that issue next month – and the formula used to set the quotas has been questioned.

A migration deal struck with Turkey in March that aimed to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey was seen as a positive step, but even that threatened to evaporate amid Turkish claims that the disbursement of funds was too slow and that the EU was dragging its feet over visa-free access for Turks wanting to travel to the EU. The deal is, however, still alive.

And while there seem to be fewer refugees attempting the perilous sea route across the Mediterranean to reach Europe, more of them are dying on that journey, according to the IOM.

The refugee crisis was never going to be resolved in Juncker’s first year in office, not even in his first term in office. But the progress made has been largely disappointing.



FOREIGN POLICY

By Rafael Cereceda

What Juncker said in September 2015:
“Today I call for a European diplomatic offensive to address the crises in Syria and in Libya. We need a stronger Europe when it comes to foreign policy.”

Where are we now?

With regards to Syria, it is Russia and the United States who have taken the diplomatic lead rather than the EU. Events have dictated that Europe’s focus is more on Turkey and the migratory fall-out of the conflict in Syria. The head of the EU’s foreign policy branch, Federica Mogherini, was in Turkey when the US and Russia announced they had struck a truce deal on September 10. While there she did appear to succeed in ironing out differences between the EU and Turkey on the migrant deal (see above), Europe’s reaction to July’s coup in Turkey and the ongoing story of Turkish accession to the EU.

For Marc Pierini of the Carnegie Europe think-tank, “the Syrian war has left the EU in a second-tier position among international actors…the prevailing institutional architecture of EU foreign policy has resulted in a complete lack of European influence on developments in the Syrian war, be it from the EU collectively or from member states individually.”

There is a also a tough, long road ahead for European diplomatic efforts in Libya, a country beset by competing and crumbling governments, internal tribal wars and ISIS’ largest presence outside of Syria and Iraq. Last month the Council of the EU extended the EU’s border assistance mission in Libya (EUBAM) until next August and endowed it with an annual budget of 17 million euros as it seeks to “support the transition to a democratic, stable and prosperous Libya.” Such is the chaos in Libya however, it will be some time before the dust settles and the success of the EU’s mission there can be properly evaluated.

GREECE CRISIS

By Apostolos Staikos

What Juncker said in September 2015:

“The Commission will stand by Greece to make sure the reforms take shape. And we will assist Greece in developing a growth strategy which is Greek owned and Greek led.”
“For Greece, the key now is to implement the deal which was agreed.”

Where are we now?

One year ago, in his State of the Union speech, Jean-Claude Juncker argued that “the talks on Greece have tested all our patience. Bridges were burnt”. He was referring to the endless negotiations between the newly elected Greek government and it’s lenders, the EU and the IMF.

It was perhaps unintended, but he managed to describe how Greeks have felt about the European Union, since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2010.

Despite the significant financial assistance which Athens has received, most Greeks feel that Brussels wants to punish and even to humiliate their country. The third memorandum, bearing the signature of Alexis Tsipras and Jean-Claude Juncker, in no way has changed this belief. Instead, it has strengthened the view that Greece is a country being held in custody.

In purely economic terms, Greeks have not seen any substantial improvement. Unemployment remains very high (23.4% in June). Last year, in his State of the Union speech, Juncker underlined the “need to protect the most vulnerable part of the society”. A year later, no one can really claim that the weakest live better or that they are protected from extreme poverty.

He also argued that Greece lost everything earned in previous years. Charalampos Gkotsis, Professor of Economics at the University of Piraeus, has a different view:

“In 2013 and 2014 there was no significant recovery. Especially in 2014, the implementation of the second memorandum had virtually stopped. So I do not think that Greece lost jobs or anything else. I sincerely believe that the recovery of Greek economy has started. In the summer of 2017, we will have the first concrete results”.

In recent statements, the Greek Prime Minister has raised the issue of debt relief. Alexis Tsipras argued that without it, the Greek economy won’t really recover. Athens feels that if Brussels insists on vague promises and continual postponements, “bridges will be burned” for a second time.

EUROPEAN ECONOMYJOBS AND DEBT

By Chris Harris

What Juncker said in September 2015:

“Over 23 million people are still unemployed today in the European Union, with more than half without a job for a year or more. In the euro area alone, more than 17.5 million people are without a job.”
“Government debt in the EU has reached more than 88% of GDP on average, and stands at almost 93% in the euro area.”

Where are we now?

The data is pointing in a positive direction: Eurostat estimates, from July 2016, claim there were 21.1 million people out of work, of which 16.3 million were in the euro area. There is no 2016 data for long-term unemployment.
Eurostat says government debt has a percentage of GDP was 84.8 in the EU, and 91.6 in the Euro area, as of the first quarter of 2016.

REFORMING EUROPE’S ECONOMY

By Chris Harris

What Juncker said in September 2015:

- “We need a common system to ensure that citizens’ bank savings are always protected up a limit of €100,000 per person and account.”
- “We need a stronger representation of the euro on the global scene. For me, the President of the Eurogroup should be the natural spokesperson for the euro area in international financial institutions such as the IMF.”
“We need a more effective and more democratic system of economic and fiscal surveillance.”
- “We need to enhance fairness in our taxation policies. The country where a company generates its profits must also be the country of taxation.”
- “We have to step up the work for a fair and truly pan-European labour market.”

Where are we now?

On protecting citizens’ savings, national systems do exist but Juncker’s plan was for an EU-wide system. A proposal was published in November and is still under investigation.

There has been no progress with regards to stronger representation of the Eurozone, although a proposal to the IMF is still awaiting approval. The EU argues the 19 countries of the Eurozone have 23 percent of shares in the International Monetary Fund, but because individual states do not speak with one voice, often their weight counts less than that of, for example, the United States, which 17.7 percent of shares, but a single representative.

There are encouraging signs with regards to the democratisation of fiscal surveillance, according to Dr. Diane Fromage, Assistant Professor of EU law at the University of Utrecht, who believes that “as a result of the Five Presidents’ report the European Parliament is now in a better place in the Euro-national budgetary cycle.”

Analysts also point to progress on boosting fairness in taxation policy. Professor Iain Begg, an expert on EU economic policy from the London School of Economics points to the recent case of Apple being ordered to pay back taxes of 13 billion euros to Ireland and the fact that “the issue has become more prominent on the political agenda.” He adds however that it is a difficult area for former Luxembourg Prime Minister Juncker given his proximity to the LuxLeaks scandal, which shone a light on tax deals struck by multinationals in the country.

And on Juncker’s fifth point on structural economic reform Professor Begg agrees that “Juncker has taken some initiatives to raise the political salience of the social challenges facing the EU.” One such initiative is the Posted Workers Directive which seeks to avoid social dumping in the EU. However, the move has met with opposition in some national parliaments, notably in eastern Europe and Denmark.

BREXIT

By Mark Davis

What Juncker said in September 2015:

“I have always said that I want the UK to stay in the European Union. And that I want to work together with the British government on a fair deal for Britain….I will seek a fair deal for Britain. I will do this for one reason and one reason alone: because I believe that the EU is better with Britain in it and that Britain is better within the EU.”

Where are we now?

Let’s just say Juncker didn’t get what he wanted.

In no way can the British people’s decision to leave the EU be put entirely on the shoulders of Jean-Claude Juncker. The relationship between the two has been difficult ever since its inception. In the end 52% of British voters decided to bid the bloc farewell because of – mainly – a perceived lack of sovereignty and perceived fears over immigration. The referendum campaign was, for many, a shambles full of half-truths and speculation; the UK’s Electoral Reform Society has labelled it “dire”, with voters left “ill-informed” to the point that the country needs to completely revise the way it manages referendums. Brexit had very little to do with Jean-Claude Juncker; responsibility for it rests primarily on David Cameron, who called the referendum and campaigned for the UK to stay.

Juncker does though, play a leading role in what happens to the EU post-Brexit. Dissuading other member states with large eurosceptic electorates, the likes of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, from following the UK out the door is the largest, perhaps even existential challenge facing the EU under his leadership.

But a British-less EU also presents opportunities. Without UK opposition, other projects (like a European army to name just one example) are much more likely to see the light of day.



UKRAINE/EU-RUSSIAN RELATIONS

By Sergio Cantone

What Juncker said in September 2015:

“The challenge of helping Ukraine to survive, to reform and to prosper is a European one…We need unity when it comes to the security of our Eastern Member States, notably the Baltics. The security and the borders of EU Member States are untouchable. I want this to be understood very clearly in Moscow.”
“We need more unity when it comes to sanctions. The sanctions the EU has imposed on Russia …are a policy that needs to be kept in place until the Minsk Agreements are complied with in full. We will have to keep our nerve and our unity.”
“The EU must show Russia the cost of confrontation but it must also make clear it is prepared to engage.”

Where are we now?

The EU’s sanctions on Russia were imposed in 2014 after Russian annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine. These sanctions are supposed to be lifted once the Minsk peace agreement is implemented and hostilities in eastern Ukraine stop. Yet two years on, the conflict rumbles on.

Can Europe maintain its unity vis-a-vis sanctions on Russia?

Yet, unity is rather a vague concept, since the countries of the EU prefer to negotiate with Russia on a bilateral basis, showing it a sum of individual weaknesses instead of a single block of determination.

Trade and business are a priority for many European countries when it comes to their relationship with Moscow and sanctions are harming their own economic interests. So the question is how long will they hold on? France and Germany are the only EU member states who are dealing with Russia in any kind of “hard-power” dimension, the Minsk agreements were their personal request addressed to Russia’s Putin and Ukraine’s Poroshenko in order to freeze a dangerous military escalation in Europe.

Two years later sanctions are still there, true, but the will to keep them appears to be evaporating.

EU action has been more decisive when it comes to energy; it lent Ukraine 3.41 billion euros through Macro-Financial Assistance programs that allowed Ukraine to purchase natural gas on the international markets. Kiev received gas from Slovakia during the winter 2016, dramatically decreasing its dependence on Russian supplies and contracts.

But political indecision and military vulnerability are undermining Europe’s ability to engage Russia on a balanced basis and to confront it in a credible way.

In the EU there is a dramatic lack of deterrence tools which would allow it to engage and to confront its powerful eastern neighbour.

CLIMATE CHANGE

By Noemi Mrav

What Juncker said in September 2015:

“The world will meet in Paris in 90 days to agree on action to meet the target of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. The EU is on track and made a clear pledge back in March: a binding, economy-wide emissions reduction target of at least 40% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels.”
“Let me be very clear to our international partners: the EU will not sign just any deal. My priority, Europe’s priority, is to adopt an ambitious, robust and binding global climate deal.”

Where are we now?

The Paris climate conference led to a legally-binding global climate deal, the first of its kind. For ecologists it was a step in the right direction but hardly the silver bullet that will reverse the effects of climate change.

On limiting the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius, the EU delivered. Wendel Trio, the Director of Climate Action Network Europe told Euronews “The EU played an important role. Together with many other countries it was a member of the High Ambition Coalition which actually created such a positive vibe that no country wanted to block an agreement. At the same time, in the High Ambition Coalition, each member challenged the other to go beyond the agreed position. In this way the EU accepted to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C, while other countries accepted the 5-year review concept that the EU was promoting.”

On reducing emissions however, 40% may not be enough: according to Trio research indicates a 55% reduction would be required to achieve the Paris objectives. Another caveat, he says, is that the EU’s pledge is not yet legislation and that the proposals before the European Parliament and the Council “contain many loopholes that will actually allow EU Member States to substantially reduce their efforts. This makes the value of the current pledge way less important than thought.”

While Trio admits “the Paris Agreement was probably the most ambitious result we could get, the EU can do much more than it is currently planning.”

“We are currently on track to overshoot the 220 target of 20%, and will likely achieve a 30% reduction in 2020. At this moment the EU is reducing its emissions by -2% each year. After 2020 the EU would be planning to reduce this to a 1% reduction every year. This is definitely neither ambitious nor courageous.”

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