This is the “last chance” Commission…
This dramatic statement was pronounced by Jean-Claude Juncker in October 2014 to Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, during his formal presentation of the College of Commissioners and their proposed 2016-2020 programme.
Juncker to deliver his first ever SOTEU!
On Wednesday 9 September, Jean-Claude Juncker will head back into the Strasbourg hemicycle for his first ever speech on the so-called State of the European Union (or SOTEU). Although not as eagerly expected by citizens and the media as the original USA version, the SOTEU address has become a major milestone in EU politics since it was first launched by former President Barroso in 2008.
As the SOTEU traditionally addresses the EU’s key challenges and provides an opportunity to introduce major policy initiatives, President Juncker is expected to present his main accomplishments from his first year at the helm of the European Commission, as well as lay out his vision to address the burning issues that the EU is currently facing.
In front of him will sit a full parliament of Members who have shown signs of dissatisfaction with their once favourite candidate, their “spitzenkandidat”. Juncker indeed secured his appointment in large part thanks to the support of the European Parliament. A year later, after mostly focusing on Council matters such as Greece and the migration crisis, some might say that the European Parliament has been left in a vacuum with too little legislative work to do. To soften critics, Juncker will have to deliver a balanced speech, calling on all institutions to cooperate for the sake of the future of the EU.
FH Stethoscopes and tweezers to the ready – It’s time to play ‘Operation Europe’
The EU seems in no better shape than last year, and Juncker will need to convincingly perform a series of highly delicate operations to heal the life-threatening conditions Europe is currently fighting, including internal disorder, existing EU weaknesses and international conditions:
- The first year of the Juncker team in office has resulted in a sharp decrease in legislative files, most notably in areas such as sustainability and environmental issues, where the EU traditionally leads the way. Looking at the 2016 European Commission Work Programme, what’s at the forefront of Juncker’s thinking?
- Jobs and growth are the backbone of Juncker’s mandate. Will he use the speech to confirm that his Investment Plan has delivered on its promises, and has boosted Europe’s growth and created jobs? Although recent figures show that unemployment in the euro area is at its lowest since February 2012, is this trend looking set to continue, or will Juncker need to intervene further in order to succeed?
- Through his vision of a more dynamic and effective institution, Juncker has turned the European Commission into a very political animal. But does the European Commission have broad enough shoulders to deliver on its President’s promises?
- Juncker had already identified the “scores of immigrants” arriving at the gates of Europe as a major challenge. Recently calling for “collective courage”, Juncker is expected to present a new proposal that addresses the migration crisis, to show that Europe still has a heart and is willing to help those seeking a better life.
- As opponents continue to vilify TTIP, Juncker will need a lot of elbow grease to progress on negotiations and ensure that the EU remains a competitive trade partner globally.
- The Greek crisis is probably one of the only achievements of this Commission thus far. Although the euro zone Member States have been slapped on the wrist for allowing Greece into the euro zone in the first place and lost credibility for endless “absolute final last possible chance before ultimate and irrevocable catastrophe Councils” to avoid a ‘Grexit’, it seems Juncker’s former role as President of the Eurogroup has paid off in so far avoiding a ‘Grexit’. However, as the Greek crisis is far from being resolved, how will Juncker address the issue moving forward?
- The European Union will rise and speak as one at the Paris Climate conference (COP21) next November. Criticisms concerning the low level of ambition for the conference are increasing, as are fears that COP21 will fail. If the EU wants to breathe life into the climate change debate, courageous proposals need to be made.
- Recent attacks on European soil and the rise of ISIS in the Middle-East have led Juncker to propose reinforced cooperation mechanisms to protect European citizens. Will the European Commission manage to convince EU Member States to have the stomach to work together?
- Juncker is not expected to go into the details of specific EU policies, however the promises of an EU Digital Single Market (DSM) regarding jobs and growth are too important not to mention. DSM and Juncker’s future legacy are joined at the hip.
- The EU cannot be navel-gazing and has to play a central role in international foreign affairs. From the Chinese economic slowdown to the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Juncker will have to keep Europe from falling on its knees.
- President Juncker is unlikely to voluntarily touch upon Brexit, which feels like the sprained ankle of the EU… very painful and capable of making us fall any minute. However far right Members of the European Parliament might push Juncker on the issue, aiming to show once again that the EU is on the brink of toppling over.
The SOTEU address will give us a sense of the current mood within the European Commission and the European Parliament, as well as an understanding of what Juncker deems his main achievements are so far.
We will closely watch Dr. Juncker perform all these sensitive operations, following the live debate from the EP and online and will regularly take the pulse of our European patient. Follow us on Twitter (@fleishmanEU) to find out how Dr. Juncker is doing fixing patient Europe!
The Institutional Research Unit