State of the union: 'Lack of union in EU', says Juncker

Addressing MEPs for more than an hour, Juncker announced new measures to deal with mounting refugee influx.

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

09 Sep 2015

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was in Parliament to address MEPs in his first state of the union speech since taking office almost a year ago.

Juncker started by telling deputies, "we must look at the huge issues with which the EU is now confronted. I don't want to fall into despondency, but Europe is not in a good situation. There's no point in painting a rosy picture. There's a lack of Europe in the EU and there's a lock of union in this EU."

The continent currently faces what some have called its 'greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II', with member states struggling to cope with the thousands of refugees attempting to enter into Europe.


The Luxembourgish official insisted that, "now is not the time to take fright. It is the time for bold, determined action from the EU member states and institutions".

He stressed that this was, "a matter of humanity and human dignity", reminding the audience that, "Europe is a continent where nearly everyone has, at one time, been a refugee. Our common history is marked by millions of Europeans fleeing from religious or political oppression."

He noted that, "we have the means to help those fleeing from war, terror and oppression. There is certainly an unprecedented number of refugees coming to Europe, but they still only represent 0.11 per cent of the total EU population. By comparison, refugees in Lebanon represent 25 per cent of the population, in a country that doesn't enjoy the wealth of the EU."

"As long as there is war in Syria and terror in Libya, the refugee crisis will carry on. Imagine for one second that it was you, your child in your arms, the world you knew torn apart before you. There is no price you wouldn't pay and no wall you wouldn't climb. We are fighting against Isis, so why are we not ready to accept those who are fleeing Isis? We must accept these people on EU territory."

Juncker reminded the audience that the Commission had launched a migration agenda last May, which proposed quotas for the number of refugees each member state should take. However, these quotas were on a voluntary basis and no binding measures have so far been adopted.


New measures to take on the refugee crisis

He introduced a set of new measures, including a list of "safe countries of origin", including Turkey, Bosnia and Serbia, "to allow international authorities to focus on those refugees who are much more likely to be granted asylum."

He also said he was "strongly in favour of allowing asylum seekers to work and earn money while their application is being processed, work is a matter of dignity."

Juncker urged policymakers to, "look into opening legal channels for migration. This will not help in addressing the refugee crisis we currently face, but if there are more safe and controlled routes into Europe, we can make the work of smugglers less attractive. Over time, migration must change from a problem to a well-managed resource."


Full employment 'not impossible'

The Commission President spoke briefly on Greece, admitting the he had told then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that, "Grexit was a possibility, but not an option that we were going to acknowledge publicly".

In terms of jobs and growth, he said "the crisis will not be over until we have full employment - this is far from impossible", adding that he hopes to, "work towards a deeper economic and monetary union. It's essential that we have a common deposit guarantees scheme".

"I am also in favour of introducing a European treasury. It might sound like a slogan, but I think it's important that the EU has a treasury that can work with the stability mechanism and can dovetail with the work being done by that institution."


MEPs react

Reacting to Juncker's speech, European People's Party group chair Manfred Weber said, "in this migrant crisis, it is not Europe, it is national egos that have failed."

"Europe needs to fulfil its humanitarian duty, helping those fleeing for their lives, and as a Christian-Democrat, I want to reiterate that it is not Christian rights, but human rights that Europe invented. But we also need to better secure our external borders and make sure that asylum rules are used properly and not abused."

Gianni Pittella, chair of Parliament's Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group, commented that, "the Commission has presented courageous measures on migration, and it is now up to the Council and member states to live up to their responsibilities. In Italy, Greece, Hungary, Germany and Austria, European citizens have shown their solidarity and European leaders must learn from their example. Only fools believe that taller fences or sharper wire will solve the crisis."

"On the state of the union, our group will judge this Commission on the basis of its actions, not its words. We demand a triple A rating for the labour mobility package that fights against social dumping and gives protection for those in precarious work."

European Conservatives and Reformists group chair Syed Kamall urged his colleagues to "work out what each country can do to help those fleeing for their lives. Telling countries what to do - forcing a plan on them - only risks more finger pointing. This might make us feel better, but I feel it could make this crisis worse."

"Different countries can offer help in different ways. Let's recognise this. Yes, some countries may wish to take in migrants already in the EU. That is their choice. But others will rightly say they want to help the most vulnerable in the camps around Syria."

"We have an obligation to help the millions of people displaced in this way, not just the thousands of people who make it to Europe."

"Europe does not need a new iron curtain, it needs an iron will to find a solution together", said the British MEP.

Meanwhile, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group chair Guy Verhofstadt urged the Council to "stop saying there is a Europe crisis. It is a crisis of lack of Europe. The heart of the problem is the lack of political will and of unity between the member states."


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