European State of the Union Explainer

Who is Jean-Claude Juncker?

Jean-Claude Juncker is the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and current president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU). This means he is nominally the President of the EU, but due to the way the power structures in Europe are shaped he is only one of three Presidents in EU.

Three Presidents?

Antonio Tajani is the President of the European Parliament, the democratically elected legislative arm of the EU. Donald Tusk is the President of the European Council, the forum in which the heads of the European members states meet each other to approve policy and make high level decisions about the European Project.

The three Presidents are each responsible for a different aspect of the EU but they need to co-operate in order for policy to be passed. This piece will focus mostly on Jean-Claude Juncker.

Why?

On the 13th of September Jean-Claude Junker gave the European State of the Union address to the European Parliament. This was important as here he laid out his plan for rescuing the EU from the various crises which have engulfed it over the past decade. From financial crashes to Greek bailouts to instability in the Ukraine to the migrant crisis and most recently the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU otherwise known as Brexit.

What was so important?

Looking to capitalise on the rebounding fortunes of the EU and its increasingly favourable image, Junker laid out his vision for a new Europe and plans for further integration. Big talking points were his refusal to entertain the idea of a multi-speed Europe (the idea of different European countries integrating at different rates), and his plans to further the integration of the Union using the Euro as a vehicle. He also called for the merging of the various Presidency positions mentioned above.

The overall endeavour seems to be aiming to streamline the Union and address the inequalities within it. The complaint over his proposals is that he is both calling for less powerful national governments, and hasn’t mentioned much about democratic oversight.

Is anything changing?

None of these ideas are new ones, in fact most have been floating around for years so the answer is we’re not sure. The political objections haven’t changed though. While many countries want the EU to take responsibility for more issues ranging from increased oversight of the banking and financial sectors to negotiating international accords, very few national governments want to cede more power to the EU.

With regards to the merging of certain presidencies, there are some complaints that there will be no efforts made to increase the democratic legitimacy of any of these positions. At the moment, each of the three EU presidents are elected indirectly, meaning that whenever they attempt to launch policies a common response is from where the Presidents are deriving the power or right to implement said policy.

Why is this important?

There are two reasons this is getting big coverage.

Firstly, Juncker is trying to save his political legacy. He has presided over a string of crises culminating in the departure of the UK from the EU. This desire to establish a lasting change and legacy for himself has resulted in an unusually bold set of reforms and ideas being packaged together.

Secondly because the UK is leaving, there is a serious chance that these reforms might make it past the drawing board. The UK has frequently been cited as a blocker for serious reform in the EU, frequently killing any ideas for further integration before they even got off the ground. With their upcoming departure, its believed that the remaining countries may be able to agree on a common program for reform.

What’s next?

First comes the condemnation from the various countries that are opposed to more EU integration. Poland is a key example of this, they are currently fighting with the EU commissions over several issues ranging from rule of law enquiries to environmental protection. Needless to say, they aren’t overly convinced by the idea of handing over more power to the EU at this time.

France and Germany are also going to be sceptical of handing more power over to the EU, especially as Germany heads into Federal Elections on September 24th. While those are ongoing the government will stay silent on the idea of reforming the EU as to avoid it becoming a major issue during the campaign. French president Emmanuel Macron made reforming the EU a key point of his presidential campaign, but he has major domestic political hurdles to overcome before he can seriously commit to the idea.

Ireland despite being one of the more Europhilic countries in the Union, with of 80% of people expressing favourable attitudes towards the EU according to the latest poll, is still going to prove a major headache for these reform plans. The main issue for the Irish government will be the changes to how finances are managed across the EU, particularly the increasingly frequent calls for a common EU corporate tax rate. This will not sit well with the Irish government in any shape or form.


Aaron Bowman – Politics Editor

 

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