State of the Union 2018: MEP reactions

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has triggered a wide range of reaction from MEPs to his last ever State of the Union in Strasbourg.

Jean-Claude Juncker | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

13 Sep 2018

Juncker, in an hour-long speech punctuated by occasional applause by MEPs, called for the EU to speak and act as one on a global stage, defend its democratic values and turn its back on poisonous nationalism.

“The EU is a global player, but must also become a global player”, he said.

“There are no guarantees that our allies of yesterday will remain our allies of tomorrow”, he added, announcing further proposals to strengthen the defence union, step up protection of EU external borders and reinforce the euro as an international currency. 

“It is absurd that the EU pays 80 per cent of its bill for energy imports in dollars, while only two per cent of those energy imports come from the US”, he said.

Juncker highlighted the difference between enlightened patriotism and unhealthy nationalism. “Article 7 must be activated where media freedom and the rule of law are under threat”, he said. 

“There is no democracy without a free press. Respecting judiciary decisions is not an option, but an obligation”. 

Europe must also shield its democratic process from international and private interests, he said.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani said, “Parliament wants, more than ever, to be at the heart of democracy. We need to give the power of initiative to Parliament. We are the only Parliament in the world that cannot initiate legislation. 

Other MEPs were quick to react, with EPP group leader Manfred Weber saying, “Europe cannot be called united if living standards are not equal.” 

He also called for swifter decision-making by increasing voting by qualified majority in the Council, saying, “Europe is an economic giant, but also has to become a political one.”

S&D group Chair Udo Bullmann acknowledged Juncker’s “political” leadership of the Commission, but did not share Weber’s positive assessment. “We are still in a transformational period, in crisis”. 

He called for a new compact for central Europe focusing on safe energy and cohesion and a new masterplan for the south, focusing on youth employment. 

“But we also have to look north”, referring to Brexit and the Swedish elections.

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt emphasised that “the real question is if we can put the legacy of the current Commission into practice?” 

The Belgian MEP called on “all pro-Europeans to be united against alt-right and authoritarian tendencies” and said he wants measures to be tabled by the Commission to protect European elections from foreign meddling.

ECR group joint leader Ryszard Antonio viewed Juncker’s investment plan positively, but labelled the EU migration policy as a failure. 

“The real question is if the EU is in a better shape now than when you took up office four years ago and the answer is ‘no’”, he said, pointing out east-west and south-north divisions.

Greens joint leader Ska Keller, also reacting to the speech, stated that the EU and its citizens “can be strong if we don’t make ourselves weak”. 

On climate change, in her view the biggest challenge of today, the Commission is “too timid”, for example by not going far enough in the proposed long-term EU budget and in the reform of the EU’s agricultural policy.

GUE/NGL group leader Gaby Zimmer deplored that decent levels of prosperity have still not been reached in many EU countries following the financial crisis, with people not benefitting from growth and workers’ rights being cut. She lamented too much “crisis management to the detriment of the poorest”.


Read the most recent articles written by Martin Banks - New EU regulations on AI seek to ban mass and indiscriminate surveillance

Share this page