While Juncker did not announce many new legislative proposals in his State of the Union speech, he instead focused on the importance of the EU as a global player, which was a central theme to his speech.
As an official welcome back to work, and kick starting his final year as President of the Commission, Juncker took stock of achievements and provided a forward looking view for the next year in the annual State of the European Union address (SOTEU).
As a headline, he outlined a continuation of the Commission’s current agenda, with the speech representing more of a stock-taking exercise in comparison to last year’s address, where many new initiatives were announced. Instead the announcement of new proposals focused on online terrorist propaganda, anti-money laundering and tackling fake news.
While Juncker did not announce new legislative proposals, he focused on the EU’s role as a global player. Three calls for action stood out in his speech:
- He called for the internationalisation of the Euro, making it an active instrument of European sovereignty. Juncker announced that the Commission will put forward proposals to strengthen and internationalise the euro before the end of the year.
- He proposed extending Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) to external action, as the EU needs to ‘speak with one voice’ on human rights.
- He proposed further resources for border patrols, and to speed up the process of returning migrants – stating that ad-hoc solutions are insufficient. Juncker also pointed to the unbalance between responsibility and solidarity shown by Member States and urged for the EU to stop being used as a scapegoat on migration.
Juncker’s focus on positioning the EU on the global stage can be seen as a way of ensuring further integration at a time when divisions amongst Member States on key issues such as migration and the future of the Eurozone are prevalent.
This can also be seen as reinforcing the strength and unity of the bloc vis-à-vis international partners – particularly in the context of Brexit. Redefining the EU in a global context is no small task, with an EU that seems more divided than ever.
Yet, focusing on external factors and bringing confidence into the EU as a global player is also a way for the Commission to focus on a positive agenda.
The Commission tabled a proposal on the day of the speech set to give new powers to the European Banking Authority (EBA) in combating money laundering.
Juncker also urged legislators to prioritise the introduction of a digital tax to make sure that large digital companies pay their taxes where they generate their profits.
Finally, the President of the Commission announced that proposals were being implemented to combat terrorist content online and prevent third countries from interfering in Member State elections through fake news.
The political aspect of the proposals show that election season has started and the European Parliament elections of May 2019 are on Juncker’s mind.