On 15 July, Jean-Claude Juncker was elected President of the European Commission by the European Parliament with 422 votes. Appearing before MEPs as the candidate nominated by the Member States at the European Council in late June, the Luxembourg candidate from the EPP – the European People’s Party, which brings together the Conservatives and Christian Democrats and won the last European elections – has developed his speech around 10 guidelines to give a “new impetus” to Europe.
A “bridge builder”
This program for “Employment, Growth, Equity and Democratic Change” aims at being the foundation stone for a political revival in Europe, not only to meet the major challenges faced by Europe – including, for example, unemployment, the fragile economic recovery, energy dependence, climate change, new technologies and the protection of privacy – but also the expectations of citizens, especially in terms of proximity and transparency of the EU.
Reading this programme, it appears that Jean-Claude Juncker wants, as he says himself, to be a “bridge builder”, a builder of unity in diversity. In addition to the enhanced legitimacy of the President of the Commission, the federalists have other reasons to rejoice reading program Jean-Claude Juncker, detailed later in this article, although one should wait to check whether the good words actually become reality.
Re-launching the economy and employment
First, the new President of the European Commission wishes to instill “a new impetus for employment, growth and investment.” Without sacrificing the need for balanced public accounts, Jean-Claude Juncker calls for better using the common EU budget to “mobilise up to 300 billion euros of additional public and private investments in the real economy over the next three years,” which reminds the federalist European Citizen’s Initiative on a “New Deal for Europe.” These investments will be focused on technology, energy, transport infrastructure and energy, and will also encourage research, innovation and education. Jean-Claude Juncker is considering, moreover, to review by the end of 2016 the multi-annual financial framework criticised for its lack of ambition.
A return to stronger economic growth and higher employment rate can furthermore be achieved with non-fiscal measures, particularly (i) the reduction of bureaucracy, (ii) the elimination of unnecessary regulations discouraging the creation of businesses and jobs and (iii) a deepening of the common market in several sectors.
A deeper integration
As stated numerous times by Jean-Claude Juncker and the federalists, the way out of the crisis goes through “more Europe” and a “better Europe”. Among the priorities outlined by the new President of the European Commission, let us first note the development of a “(connected) digital single market” which could generate “up to 250 billion euros of additional growth” in the next five years. The goal is for the EU to seize new opportunities in the twenty-first century without sacrificing effective rules to protect personal data and consumers shopping online. Another priority is to develop a “European Energy Union” for Europeans to develop renewable energies, reduce energy imports and increase energy efficiency.
A “better Europe” also means questioning the pillars of the European construction to determine whether our achievements are really up to our expectations and ambitions. So, the single market, which is a symbol of European integration, can be improved. In several sectors, including agriculture and certain services, the single European market continues to be an illusion. To fight against it, Jean-Claude Juncker proposes “to promote the mobility of labour,” and see the free movement of workers “as an economic opportunity and not a threat.” In addition, a “capital markets Union” would improve the financing of the real economy, especially of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), across Europe and defend a “strong and high performing” industrial basis that Jean-Claude Juncker wants to “maintain and strengthen.” The new rules on financial regulation and the fight against tax evasion and fraud are also part of this goal.
Moreover, within the euro zone, the resolution of the crisis requires “a deeper and more equitable economic and monetary union,” as requested by the European citizens and pro-European associations. The current rules will be reviewed and further structural reforms will be introduced. In addition, the new President of the European Commission also spoke of a “targeted budgetary capacity at the level of the euro area” – such wording may suggest the start of a budget of the euro area. Jean-Claude Juncker also hopes that future financial aid plans to Member States in difficulty will also take into account their “social impact”, so that Europe remains faithful to the social market economy, its business model for nearly 70 years.
A strong Europe on the international scene
Three of the ten priorities developed by Jean-Claude Juncker address the relationship between the EU and its foreign partners. One of the main issues is the negotiation of a transatlantic free trade agreement (TTIP/TAFTA) currently being negotiated by the European Commission, on behalf of the 28 Member States, with the U.S. government. This agreement would reduce tariffs and facilitate mutual recognition of standards. However, as requested by many actors of civil society, this agreement should not sacrifice “European standards of safety and health, social norms, standards of data protection and our cultural diversity.” In addition, the new President of the Commission supports “greater transparency vis-à-vis citizens and the European Parliament,” which will vote anyway on the agreement after the end of the negotiations.
Still regarding external relations, Jean-Claude Juncker also calls on Member States to take the warning represented by the Ukrainian crisis not only to develop a European energy policy, but also to strengthen the unity of Europe on the international scene so that it can play a role up to its economic importance, including in its vicinity – even if new adhesions were excluded for the next five years. Foreign policy should become more effective and coherent (associating those responsible for foreign trade, development aid and enlargement in developing common positions), with Europe remaining true to its image as a “soft power”, but also featuring defence capabilities (still to be developed, at present, through extensive voluntary cooperation between willing Member States).
The third pillar of the foreign policy of the EU is the theme of asylum and immigration. Jean-Claude Juncker calls for more solidarity and “protection of the people in need” while insisting on the importance to combat illegal immigration and human trafficking more effectively, for example by strengthening the capacity of Frontex, the European border management agency. Moreover, he promotes a “new European policy on legal migration”, to be more open and welcoming, especially for skilled workers/graduates, in order to address labour shortages in certain sectors and soften the impact of the European demographic decline.
A Europe of democracy and human rights
Last but not least, Jean-Claude Juncker set “a Union of democratic change” and the development of an “area of justice and fundamental rights based on mutual trust” as priorities. Indeed, the EU is not just a common market, contrary to what some European leaders believe. In this “Union of shared values”, the new President of the European Commission proposes to appoint a commissioner for the Charter of fundamental rights and the rule of law, who would also manage the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human rights. The fight against discrimination, data protection made a fundamental right, the fight against cross-border crime and terrorism, and improved judicial cooperation between Member States will also be on the agenda of this new commissioner.
As for “democratic change,” it will be implemented through (i) an improved dialogue between the Commission and the European Parliament, (ii) increased transparency of lobbyism at the European institutions (particularly the Commission) and (iii) more extensive interactions with national parliaments. This partnership between the European institutions and the Member States should be established with the Community method, warns the new President of the Commission. This should meet the expectations of pro-European and all those who call for the EU to be more democratic and closer to its citizens.
A Europe united in diversity
Jean-Claude Juncker is not fooled, nor idealistic, nor unconscious. He knows that all countries cannot and do not want to move at the same speed towards a deeper integration. This is why, in a spirit of openness, he reaches out to his opponents (especially British), stressing that he will work with everyone because “we must move forward as a Union.” That being said, those who want to go faster and further should be able to do so. Finally, true to a federalist vision and to the principle of subsidiarity enshrined in the European Treaties, Jean-Claude Juncker wants Europe to be “bigger and more ambitious on big issues, and smaller and more modest on small issues.”
“This time is different”
In conclusion, reading the program Jean-Claude Juncker, one can hope that the slogan of the European Parliament for the European elections will be reflected in the composition (as gender-balanced as possible, as called for by the new President of the Commission) of the European Commission and in its policies over the next five years. Federalists and other pro-Europeans can hope that “this time is different.” Now, it remains to be seen whether the actions will match the words, whether the political will to live up to promises, whether the changes will be in line with expectations.
NB: This article was translated from the French. Therefore, it is possible that some quotes do not fully correspond to the official translation provided by the European institutions.
NB2: As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Luxembourg Youth Parliament, I am particularly proud and happy to notice that most of the resolutions we drafted and adopted are mirrored in the programme of the next European Commission.