In the last plenary week in Strasbourg, the outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the European Parliament for the last time. He used the debate with the Latvian Minister President on the future of Europe for a personal retrospect on his period as Commission President, which is now coming to an end.
In his introductory words, Jean-Claude Juncker voiced his regret that the EU would currently mainly talk about Brexit. Admittedly, Brexit is an important issue for the EU, but it would take the shine off the actual achievements o the last five years, which would have a greater impact on the everyday life of citizens - for example the end of roaming charges, which had made free internet access easier. Under his aegis, the European Commission also engaged in a dialogue with citizens: he pointed out that ca. 1,600 citizens' dialogues had been held and concluded that his Commission had not entrenched itself “in the Berlaymont Bunker” - the main building of the Commission is called “Berlaymont”.
The overall balance positive in spite of everything
Under his leadership, the Commission had achieved its goal to no longer interfere in every detail in the everyday life of citizens, but to concentrate on major issues. There had been 350 legislative proposals since 2014, of which almost 200 had been adopted. What particularly pleased Juncker is the fact that during the last period, the social sector, which until now had been a poor relation of EU policy, had seen more progress than ever before. Important progress had also been made regarding the vision of an energy union. At the end of his period in office, he would thank all MEPs for this and for the good cooperation.
The EU either needs a bigger budget or less expenditure for agricultural policy
With regard to the future, Juncker hoped that the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) would put higher priority on investments, innovation, research, youth and education. However, in order to achieve this without at the same time massively increasing the budget, one would have to cut spending for agriculture and cohesion. Nobody had been in favour of an EU budget of 1.4 % GDP, least of all the Member States. Even the European Parliament, which was not shy when it came to EU budget issues, had settled for demanding 1.3 %. In the end, the Commission had proposed 1.11 % in summer 2018, which would correspond to the scale of the current MFF.
No “United States of Europe”
Juncker also emphasised the unchanged key role of the Member States, which would remain strong in future. The EU would need the nations and would be unable to develop without them. That is why he was still against the term “United States of Europe”, because the EU would never develop into a state like the USA. Juncker also pointed out that patriotism was something positive, because every French woman or man should continue to feel like a French and every German should continue to feel as a German. There was no contradiction between responsible patriotism and an affiliation to a bigger structure such as the EU.
Declaration of love to Europe
Concluding his speech, Juncker bade a very personal farewell to the European Parliament including a declaration of love to Europe and the EU. It was important that West and East European EU Member States - he called them the two lungs of the Union, where one could not live and survive without the other - would work together well. He had liked his work as Commission President, he had learned a lot and also argued - and together the institutions had achieved a good deal. “Europe is something you have to love - if you don´t love Europe, than you are not capable of doing anything for it. I love Europe, long live Europe” were the words, with which the Commission President ended his emotional address, which was given a big round of applause.