14 September 2017

Yesterday, President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, gave his annual State of the European Union speech outlining his vision for the EU. While some of the UK press viewed his speech as vindication for why the UK voted to leave the EU, the European reaction was more mixed.

EU politicians react:

French President Emmanuel Macron praised Juncker’s proposal to regulate foreign investment, which is unsurprising considering he has been pushing the EU to take a tougher stance on the issue.

German politicians were more lukewarm to Juncker’s speech; German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman “welcomed” the proposals and said they would be discussed at the European Council summit.

Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, called the speech “important” and called for it to be the starting point of a debate.

German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, told German broadcaster ARD:

It is good that he [Juncker] is putting pressure [to expand the Eurozone] but the preconditions [for joining the Eurozone] must be fulfilled. It is in fact so that EU countries who fulfil the preconditions become members of the euro under the Lisbon Treaty.

Meanwhile, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière poured cold water on Juncker’s vision saying there is still “quite a long way to go.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was “pleased he [Juncker] is critical about the Eurozone budget and the Eurozone parliament,” but was less enthusiastic on Juncker’s idea to extend Schengen, he told the Telegraaf:

We oppose this. There are too many concerns about border controls and corruption.

The Portuguese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, welcomed Juncker’s plan to merge the European commissioner of financial affairs and the president of the Eurogroup. He added:

It’s a reform of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) that we have to do…the EMU is flawed, there is a deep divergence between the economies and it cannot function if imperfect and favouring divergence instead of convergence.

The Danish Prime Minister applauded Juncker’s emphasis on the need for trade

But wasn’t convinced on his idea to merge the European Commission and European Council President

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, on the other hand, thanked Juncker for paying tribute to the country in its handling of migration

Germany

One thing that united the German press was their disapproval of Juncker’s euro proposal:

In German daily Die Welt, Economic Correspondent, Anja Ettel, calls Juncker’s proposals on the euro “completely absurd,” because if “Europe is in the midst of the deepest crisis, does it really need more euros for even more countries?” She argues his proposal:

Would be the best way to turn the dream of a common Europe into a never-ending nightmare.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes Juncker  proposals are just before the German election and could trigger “disputes,” particulary the expansion of the Eurozone.

Handelsblatt argues that “Juncker’s plan is not just against Paris, but also against Merkel’s… [Who] has been promoting a Europe of different speeds for some time.”

Business editor for Spiegel, David Böcking, called Juncker’s proposal on the euro a “fairy tale” he writes:

The currency binds an economic dwarf like Greece to an economic giant like Germany. Neither side has been made happy by this bond in recent years. … The single currency makes it impossible for the Southern Europeans to improve their competitiveness through devaluations rather than cutbacks. … By stubbornly persisting with this plan, Juncker is reinforcing two prejudices about the EU: first, that this union of states is mainly interested in pushing through economic interests. Second, that Brussels always has the same answer to crises: more integration no matter what the consequences. And finally, this image of an almighty EU that is unwilling to adapt helps the cause of the right-wing populists.

France

An editorial for Le Monde is more positive on Juncker, it runs with the headline, “The realistic ambitions of Jean-Claude Juncker for Europe.” Le Monde focuses on the convergence between the French approach and Juncker’s vision “to provide the EU with an instrument to control foreign direct investment – in particular China – in the EU.”

With the title, “The return of Europe,” François Ernenwein writes in La Croix,

[Juncker] proposed reviving the economy, bolstering social welfare, making the Eurogroup more efficient and protecting strategic sectors. What this list is clearly lacking is creative audacity. What it does have, however, is a real desire for progress. The most die-hard Europeans might be disappointed. But, really, they should be heartened. Because just a year ago all of these ambitions would have seemed highly unrealistic.

Sweden

The Swedes were less than impressed with Juncker’s rhetoric, in an opinion piece for Svenska Dagbladet, Erik Thyselius writes, “With Juncker as a friend, the EU doesn’t need any enemies.” He argues:

The British decision to leave the EU creates a possibility to acceleration integration even more…Long story short: the future of the EU spells federalism. The Brexit debate about the risk of overbearing supranationalisation turning citizens against the EU has obviously not left much mark on Juncker.

Ireland

An editorial in The Irish Times sees justification in Juncker’s confidence for the future of the EU, despite Brexit. It argues:

For the first time in a decade, Juncker’s trademark bullishness has some justification…The union has managed to weather the euro zone and migration crises with its institutions intact, and the right-wing populist wave has receded for now. Brexit itself, while depriving the union of the UK’s economic power and diplomatic clout, will also, by removing a semi-detached member that always stood at a remove from the integrationist centre, make the union more coherent…For true believers in the EU as a political project, Brexit is a big opportunity.