Jean-Claude Juncker has made a bid to greatly increase the European Union’s powers in a State of the Union address which Brexit campaign leader Nigel Farage branded “the most open, honest, and truly worrying speech” he has heard in all his years as an MEP.
The President of the European Commission — the unelected body which acts as the EU’s executive and also holds sole power to initiate EU legislation — proposed combining his own role with that of European Council President Donald Tusk, creating a kind of super-presidency for the bloc.
He also proposed the creation of a pan-European economy and finance minister — a role which would be taken up by a member of the European Commission, leaving him subject to the super-president — in order to increase the “efficiency” of the bloc.
The Luxembourger seemed sure that these changes could be made using Qualified Majority Votes without the need for a new treaty, presumably using provisions laid out in the partially self-amending Lisbon Treaty.
He indicated the EU could take more national foreign policy decisions into its hands as well, again using existing Qualified Majority Voting rules.
Perhaps most significantly, he announced he would be changing the European Commission’s code of conduct so that its members could also stand in European elections — a development which could have very serious ramifications, considering Commissioners must observe a duty of loyalty to the body, and swear an oath to act “in the general interests of the Union” — rather than their home countries’ interests.
— European Commission (@EU_Commission) September 13, 2017
President Juncker was as ambitious on policy as he was on structural reform.
Referring to the ongoing process of European military integration, he announced: “By 2025, we will have a functioning European Defence Union” — while footage of German military exercises played in the background of the European Parliament’s livestream.
He insisted the struggling euro remains “destined to be the common currency of the entire European Union” and proposed new measures to achieve this.
He also called for Romania and Bulgaria to be drawn into the borderless Schengen Area, which Interpol chief Robert Noble has described as “effectively an international passport-free zone for terrorists”.
On migration more generally, he declared “Europe is not a fortress and must never become one”, and took a subtle swipe at countries failing to show sufficient “solidarity” on the subject.
Solidarity was also mentioned in the context of the controversial European Solidarity Corps — nicknamed the ‘Juncker Jugend’ by critics — which has registered tens of thousands of young people since it was introduced in 2016.
— LEAVE.EU (@LeaveEUOfficial) September 13, 2017
Britain was little mentioned in the speech, and there was speculation Juncker would snub the outgoing member-state completely — although he eventually mentioned that Brexit was a tragedy, turning to UKIP heavyweight Nigel Farage to tell him it was a decision Britain would “soon regret”.
Responding to the head eurocrat’s address, the Brexit campaign leader was characteristically bombastic:
“Mr. Juncker that was the most open, honest, and truly worrying speech I’ve heard in my long years in this place,” he began.
“The message is very clear: Brexit has happened — full steam ahead!
“There’s to be one powerful president for the whole of the European Union, a finance minister with fresh powers to, as you say yourself, ‘intervene’ as and when he sees necessary.
“A stronger European army in a militarised European Union, with a stronger and perhaps more aggressive foreign policy, too.
“And ‘More Europe’ in every single direction, and all of it to be done without the consent of the people.”
Farage said the EU’s plans seemed “reminiscent of regimes of old — indeed, the way you’re treating Hungary and Poland already must remind them of living under the Soviet Communists, when you attempt to tell them how they should run their own countries.”
“All I can say is: Thank God we’re leaving!'” he concluded.
“You’ve learnt nothing from Brexit … The lesson you take is you’re going to centralise [and] you’re going to move on to this new, very worrying, undemocratic Union.”