It has become a tradition of the first plenary week after the summer recess: the speech of the Commission President on the State of the Union to the European Parliament. From 2010 to 2013, Manuel Barroso and since 2015 Jean-Claude Juncker has used this speech to provide a retrospective on the most important developments of the past and a forecast for the coming months. On 12th September 2018, the current Commission President delivered his last State of the Union Address, as he had announced already that he would stand down as Commission President after the EU elections in May 2019. This year, his particular focus was on foreign and migration policy; he only briefly touched on social issues.
Each September, Brussels eagerly anticipates it: the Address of the Commission President to the European Parliament on the State of the Union. And again this time, Jean-Claude Juncker delivered a clear statement for a strong unified Europe, which shall speak with one voice, which, however, has been less and less the case in the past: hence, Europe shall rediscover the virtue of compromise.
For instance, he used trade policy as an example for a unified Europe to enjoy tangible benefits. He had been able to achieve success during the talks with US President Donald Trump and to avert US-American protective tariffs for example, as he had been in a position to represent the entire Union.
However, he is particularly critical about the Union's current approach to foreign policy, and therefore proposes significant changes. Due to the fact, that in respect of the Council’s foreign policy the principle of unanimity applies, each Member State has a right to veto any decision. According to Juncker, this limits the Union’s room for manoeuvre and promotes parallel diplomacy. For that reason, a qualified majority shall also be sufficient with regard to foreign policy issues. However, even if no amendment of the EU treaties would be required, the question arises as to its feasibility, as - given the times of growing Euroscepticism - it would be almost impossible to persuade Member States to accept this decline of their political options.
The second issue, which Juncker elaborated on in his speech, was the subject of migration and the relationship with Africa. What is noteworthy here is the new economic package on Africa: it proposes a new Africa-Europe Alliance with affirmative action to create 10 million jobs in Africa. A wide variety of training measures shall help 750,000 people to improve their qualifications and over 100,000 students and scientists are to receive funding from the Erasmus+ Programme. Of course, another reason is to reduce the causes of flight and migration in Africa.
The President addressed many other issues, reaching from climate targets via digitalisation up to the rule of law in EU countries and a plea for press freedom. What was striking, were the clear words in favour of taxing digital companies. He commented that the majority of voters would expect the EU and thereby also the Member States to adopt this digital tax as soon as possible. Lately, there had been an increase of critical voices from various capitals concerning the Commission proposal at the start of the year on a Common Corporate Tax Base for digital companies.
Unfortunately, Juncker touched on the EU’s social dimension only at the end of his speech and only briefly; however, he used clear words: the interests of workers and employees must not be ignored. A unilateral policy jeopardises the cohesion of society; that is why the social pillar has to be transposed into law. This view is also shared by the Chamber of Labour; only a strong social agenda can reduce the differences within the Union and increase its acceptance.
European Commission: State of the Union 2018
European Commission: Qualified Majority Voting in the Common Foreign and Security Policy
AK EUROPE: Memorandum for a social Europe