Europe has become a “valley of fears” as its “glorious years” have come to an end, top Eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker has admitted. In a downbeat assessment of the trading bloc’s immediate future, the president of the European Commission told an audience in Madrid the continent is now in the shadow of the rest of the world but he had faith in the “simple people” to set things right.
“Economically, we see the end of Europe’s glorious years compared with what others are doing,” Mr Juncker said on Wednesday night. The “dream” of a unified continent is at risk from “fissures and fractures” of national divisions and separatist movements, he continued, before adding: “The European Union is not going very well, and so we must ensure that we keep alive the ambitions, hopes and dreams of Europe.”
Mr Juncker, who is a former prime minister of Luxembourg, then prescribed what he believes is the simple problem facing the European “project” in 2015: “There is not enough Union in Europe”. But he maintained this was an argument for the EU sticking together. “The time has not arrived for us to re-divide the national leagues and classes, now is the time to ensure that the EU stays together,” he said.
Mr Juncker likened contemporary Europe to the vale of tears, the Biblical term for the sorrows of life on earth.
“When I’m on another continent, I see eyes shine when those I visit talk about Europe. And when I return to Brussels or Luxembourg, I find myself in a valley of fears, a valle Lacrimarum. We do not know who we are, and we are not proud of the solid achievements of our predecessors.”
In a separate speech to the European People’s Party, Mr Juncker said he would focus on “social Europe” – that is, employment rights – to win the support of “simple” people.
“We can’t lose the people who always believed in us, the simple people who work, who aren’t any less intelligent than the elites. They’ve always supported Europe and it is about reconquering their heart.”
At a conference in Brussels yesterday, Mr Juncker’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans continued that theme by warning that the growing migrant crisis could bring the final end of the EU.
“The challenge to the European project today is existential. The refugee crisis has brought that to light,” he said. “What was unimaginable before now becomes imaginable, namely the disintegration of the European project.
“There is quite a strong lack of trust between member states. We need to get out of this.
“We’ve lost track of what we share or the common destiny we should be building and we’re looking ahead especially at the differences between us. This is an old European illness.”
The Juncker/Timmermans assessment of Europe’s frailties comes as British support for staying in the EU has tumbled over the past four months as an influx of migrants into Europe has pushed many voters towards opting for an exit, the Ipsos MORI pollster said on Thursday.
In one of the starkest illustrations to date of how the migrant crisis may be polarising British views of Europe, an Ipsos MORI poll showed 52 per cent of Britons would vote to stay in the EU, down from a record 61 per cent in June.
Reuters reports support for a British exit rose to 39 per cent, the highest level since 2012, up from 27 per cent in June. That more than halves the “in” lead to 13 percentage points from 34 points in June.