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‘Europe must remain a tolerant, open continent’ – Juncker’s State of the Union

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers stern warning on respect for the rule of law

Jean-Claude Juncker
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Migration dominated European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s fourth annual State of the Union speech to EU parliamentarians in Strasbourg. It lays out the bloc’s agenda for the next 12 months.

“Europe must remain a tolerant open continent. Europe will never become a fortress turning its back on the world, notably the part of the world which is suffering,” Juncker said.

He said that during elections, leadership was needed on migration issues. He said arrivals had been “drastically reduced – by 97% in the Eastern Mediterranean, and by 80% in the central Mediterranean.

Yet, he said, Member States have not yet found the right balance between the responsibility each must assume on its own territory; and the solidarity all must show.

“Where borders have been reinstated, they must be removed. Failure to do so would amount to an unacceptable step back for the Europe of today and tomorrow,” he said.

“We cannot continue to squabble to find ad-hoc solutions each time a new ship arrives”.

Juncker announced that the Commission was proposing to further strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard “to better protect our external borders” with an additional 10,000 European border guards by 2020.

At the same time, he stressed the need to open migration routes to Europe.

Rule of law

Juncker stressed that the Commission “will resist all attacks on the rule of law”.

“We continue to be very concerned by the developments in some of our Member States. Article 7 must be applied whenever the rule of law is threatened,” the EC President said.

He pointed out that EU law was a community of law, and it was vital that judgments from the Court of Justice were respected and implemented: “This is vital”.

We must do more to protect our democracy and its agents – our journalists

He expressed concern on the erosion of democratic principles: “The tone is not only worrying when it comes to political discourse. It is also true of the way some seek to shut down debate altogether by targeting media and journalists”.

“Europe must always be a place where freedom of the press is sacrosanct. Too many of our journalists are intimidated, attacked, or even murdered. We must do more to protect our democracy and its agents – our journalists,” the European Commission President said.

The far-right

The European Commission President referred to the rise of the far-right in Europe, saying its citizens should say no to “unhealthy nationalism” and yes to “enlightened patriotism.”

“Patriotism is a virtue, unchecked nationalism is riddled with both poison and deceit,” Juncker said.

Brexit

He said the EU respects but regrets the UK decision, but the British government must understand that outside the union it cannot enjoy the same privileges as within.

“Someone who leaves the EU cannot be in the same privileged state as a member,” Juncker said.

The UK will always be a close partner in political, economic and security terms, he added. Europe will always show solidarity with Ireland over the border issue with the UK.

Foreign policy

EU counties should no longer be able to veto the bloc’s foreign policy, insisting that Europe must speak with “one voice”.

Juncker proposed majority voting to decide on some areas, adding that the same should apply to some tax matters.

He also referred to Africa – by 2050 Africa will be 2.5 billion – saying that Europe must stop seeing its relations with Africa as a donor/recipient partnership. He said Europe must seek “a true and balanced partnership” which would be mutually beneficial.

Other key points:

  • Taxes: Companies should pay taxes where they earn their profits.
  • Euro: The currency has been a success but the project needs to work to cement its place as an international currency.
  • Economy: Europe has created created 12 million jobs since 2014. It has ridden out the economic crisis and is showing consistent growth.
  • Peace: “Let us show more respect to the European Union,” which has brought peace to the continent.
  • Terrorist propaganda: The European Commission will propose rules obliging internet companies to take down terrorist propaganda within one hour.
  • European time: Countries should decide whether their clocks should no longer change between summer and winter.

You can read the full text of his speech here.

An act of resistance

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

European Parliament approves start of proceedings against Hungary