Critics of the European Union often accuse it of aspiring to be the “United States of Europe”. They would have had a field day this morning, when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker came to Brussels to give his own “State of the Union” address. “I have lived the European project my whole life,” he told assembled MEPs, “I have lived it and fought for it through good times and bad times.” He went on to unveil quite possibly his boldest plan yet to ensure the project thrived. “The European landscape would be clearer and more understandable if the European ship was steered by a single captain,” Mr Juncker thought, suggesting that his job be merged with that of Council president Donald Tusk to create – in effect – an overall President of Europe. The bloc would enlarge to the east, he indicated, and would oblige every member to adopt the euro. He wanted the eurozone to have its own finance minister, and no fewer than three new EU regulatory agencies. Nigel Farage summed up his speech as a naked call for “more Europe”.
After nearly an hour, the Commission president alluded to Britain’s departure from the European Union for the first – and only – time, calling it a “very sad and tragic moment in our history”. “ We will always regret this,” he declared, then rounding on British MEPs who had begun mocking him: “I think you will regret it as well.” Our Europe editor Peter Foster was struck by Mr Juncker’s tone, so has meticulously contrasted his dream for Europe with the reality.
The Commission president tried to shrug off Britain’s departure by boasting of how much the EU had going for it, particularly in its efforts to negotiate free trade deals. The bloc “still does not have a trade deal with the US, China or India”, the IEA’s Julian Jessop points out, although Mr Juncker was proud to declare that talks would soon start with Australia and New Zealand. If he’s keen to woo the Australians, he would be wise to bear in mind what their high commissioner to the UK has written in the FT . “Without Britain,” Alexander Downer warned, “there is a risk that the EU becomes introverted, less global and less transatlantic in outlook…That is why countries outside Europe believe that the UK and the EU share equal responsibility for concluding a successful Brexit negotiation over the next 19 months.” President Juncker might like to pretend the EU is better off without Britain, but it has much to gain by remaining on good terms with it after Brexit.
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