On 22nd October, the outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the European Parliament. In his farewell speech, he expressed his gratitude for the cooperation and reviewed the mandate after five years at the helm of the European Commission.
At the beginning of his 25-minute speech, Jean-Claude Juncker recalled that a lot had already been at stake at the beginning of his term in office: it had been “a last chance Commission”; referring to the low approval rates of the Commission and other European institutions in 2014. This was also one of the reasons why he wanted to create a “political Commission”, composed of well-known and elected men and women from the Member States, which would bring the EU closer to its citizens.
“Poly-crises” of the EU
During Juncker’s term in office, the EU had to deal with many crises: the toughest and never-ending one is probably Brexit, which he himself called a “waste of time and energy”. The threat of Greece leaving the EU following the debt crisis was also one of the most defining moments of his tenure. The former Luxembourg Prime Minister said he felt proud that he achieved Greece staying - even though he had received many calls of Prime Ministers, who had told him “to stay out of it”. The fact that still no solution had been found for the Cyprus conflict and that the Institutional Framework Agreement with Switzerland had not materialized were called failures by Juncker. Juncker also expressed his disappointment that the Banking Union had not come to fruition. Blame for this would lie with the Member States, which had blocked the initiative.
Strengthening the social dimension
Apart from his crisis management, Juncker also referred to the strengthening of the social dimension, which had been a success. His intention to introduce the European Pillar of Social Rights had been the dignity of Europe’s employees. The so-called Juncker-Plan, which had been presented right at the start of his tenure, had contributed to it. During its term, this investment programme had generated 432 billion Euros. According to the outgoing EU Commission President, this had resulted in 0.9 % economic growth and 1.1 million new jobs. Juncker also mentioned the record high employment rate and the Europe-wide decrease of unemployment.
Praise and criticism from MEPs
Whilst Manfred Weber of the European People’s Party praised Juncker for his determination to stick to his principles and for his commitment to European fundamental values, MEPs of the Left (GUE/NGL) and the Greens criticised the outgoing President. Philippe Lamberts of the Greens spoke of Juncker’s inactivity, even blockade, in the fight against tax evasion and his soft attitude towards tax havens. After all, Juncker’s home country was part of the latter. In particular, MEP Manon Aubry of the French Left did not mince her words: Appointing Juncker, who was jointly responsible for the Lux-Leaks, to take up the fight against tax evasion, would be the same as asking “Monsanto to get rid of pesticides”. The Greens commented that Juncker had shown his social streak; however, climate policy had fallen by the wayside during his Presidency. Iratxe García Pérez, leader of the S&D group, voiced her appreciation for the work of the Commissioners in “Team Juncker”, most notably Frans Timmermans’ commitment regarding the respect of the rule of law. She also praised Juncker’s departure from strict austerity for crisis-ridden Member States.
Vive l’Europe, long live Europe.
In spite of justified criticism, a great European bade farewell yesterday. Juncker urged never to take peace in Europe for granted and “to fight stupid and small-minded nationalisms with all might”. Europe had to work closely together in order to have any voice on the global political stage.