On the July 15th, Jean- Claude Junker was elected President of the European Commission by the European Parliament with 422 votes. Presenting himself in front of MEPs as a candidate appointed by Member States in the European Council, at the end of June, the Luxembourgish candidate for the EPP – the European Peoples’ Party that brings together Christian-Democrats and conservatives and came first in the recent European Elections – has focused his speech on 10 key ideas that must provide a ‘new momentum’ to Europe.
A ‘bridge builder’
This program for ‘Employment, Development, Equity, and Democratic Change, sets the first stone to a political renovation in Europe, in order to respond not only to the great challenges that Europe has to confront – we mention as examples, unemployment, a fragile economic recovery, energy dependence, climate change, new technologies and personal data protection, but also citizens’ expectations, mostly as far as proximity and transparency of the EU is concerned.
It appears from this programme that Jean-Claude Juncker wants to establish himself, as he himself puts it, as a ‘bridge builder’, a builder of unity in diversity. Besides the greater legitimacy of the Commission President, the federalists have also other motives to rejoice at the reading of Juncker’s program, detailed below, although it is best to wait and verify if words are effectively followed by acts.
Kick-starting the economy and employment
First, the new President of the European Commission wishes to inspire ‘a new momentum for employment, development and investment’. Without giving up the imperative of sound public finances, Jean- Claude Juncker calls for a better use of the common EU budget for mobilizing up to an additional €300 million to public and private investments into the real economy during the next three years, which echoes the European citizen initiative of the federalists for a ‘New Deal for Europe’. These investments will have to be concentrated on the technological, energy and transport infrastructures and will also have to encourage research, innovation and education. Furthermore, Jean-Claude Juncker will have to re-examine from now till the end of 2016 the multiyear financial framework criticized for its lack of ambition.
The return to stronger economic development and to higher employment also requires non budgetary measures, in particular the reduction of bureaucracy and the suppression of useless regulations dissuading the creation of enterprises and employment as well as the deepening of a common market in numerous sectors.
As so often repeated by Jean-Claude Juncker and the federalists, the way out of the crisis goes through ‘more Europe’ and a ‘better Europe’. The priorities highlighted by the new President of the European Commission include the development of a ‘unique digital market (connected)’ that would generate up to €250 million of supplementary development’ during the next five years. The objective is that the EU grabs the new opportunities of the 21st century without however giving up effective rules on personal data and consumer protection for purchases on line. Αnother priority is to develop an ‘Energy European Union’ allowing Europeans to develop renewable energies, reducing energy imports, and increasing the energy efficiency.
‘Α better Europe’ also entails asking ourselves about the pillars of European integration in order to determine if our achievements meet expectations and ambitions. This way, the single market, which constitutes of one of the symbols of the European integration, can improve. Ιn many sectors, such as agriculture and certain services, the unique European market continues to be an illusion. Ιn order to fight this, Jean-Claude Juncker suggests promoting ‘the mobility of labour’ by seeing the free circulation of workers as ‘an economic opportunity and not as a threat.
Moreover, ‘the Union of capital markets’ would improve the financing of the real economy, mostly small and medium enterprises (PME) throughout Europe, and to defend an industrial base ‘strong and highly successful at the same time’ that Jean-Claude Juncker wishes to ‘maintain and strengthen’. The new rules on financial regulation and the fight against tax evasion and frauds are also part of this objective. Βesides, within the Eurozone, the crisis resolution passes through ‘a more in-depth and fairer economic and monetary Union’ as the European citizens and pro-European associations request. The actual rules will therefore be re-examined, other structural reforms will be introduced, and the new President of the European Commission has also talked about ‘a budgetary capacity targeted at the level of the Eurozone’- a formulation that would suggest a restart of the Eurozone budget. Jean-Claude Juncker wishes, besides, that future plans for financial assistance to States experiencing hardship equally take into consideration ‘the social incidences’ so that Europe stays loyal to the social market economy which is its economic model since the 70’s.
A strong Europe on the international scene
Three out of ten priorities developed by Jean-Claude Juncker deal with the relations between the EU and its international partners. One of the principal topics is the agreement of free -transatlantic exchange (ΤΤΙP-TAFTA) being currently negotiated by the European Commission, on a mandate from 28 Member States, with the American government. Τhis agreement should reduce customs duties and facilitate the reciprocal acceptance of norms and standards. However, as it is claimed by numerous actors of civil society, this agreement will not have to sacrifice ‘the European security and health norms, the norms of data protection or our cultural diversity’. Moreover, the new President of the Commission declared himself in favour of a greater transparency with regard to citizens and the European Parliament, which will anyhow express itself on the agreement at the end of negotiations.
Still on foreign relations, Jean-Claude Juncker invites the Member States to seize the warning shots represented by the Ukrainian crisis not only to develop a European energy policy, but also to reinforce the unity of Europe on the international scene, so that she is able to play the role she deserves given her economic weight, including in her neighbourhood – although new memberships have been excluded during the next five years. Foreign policy should become more effective and more coherent (by bringing together those in charge of external trade, development aid and enlargement, to develop common positions), loyal to her ‘soft power’ reputation, but also disposing of defence capacities (which remain to be developed, at the moment, by means of an in-depth cooperation between voluntary States).
The third pillar of EU foreign policy focuses on asylum and immigration. Jean- Claude Juncker pleads for more solidarity and for the ‘protection of people in need’ while insisting on the necessity of fighting more effectively illegal immigration and the trafficking of human beings, for example by reinforcing the budget of Frontex, the European agency for frontier management. Furthermore, he supports a ‘new European policy regarding legal migration’, more open and welcoming, mostly by attracting degree holders/qualified workers to remedy the shortages of labour supply in certain sectors and soften the consequences of European demographic decline.
A Europe of democracy and fundamental rights.
Last but not least, Jean-Claude Juncker sets as a priority ‘a Union of democratic change’ as well as the development of ‘a space of justice and fundamental rights based on a mutual trust’. As a result, the EU is not just a common market, unlike what certain European officials believe. In this ‘Union of shared values’, the new President of the European Commission mainly proposes to appoint a Commissioner in charge of the fundamental rights Charter and the Rule of law that will also have to manage the integration of the EU to the European Convention of Human Rights. The fight against discriminations, the protection of data as a fundamental right, the fight against cross-border criminality and terrorism, an improved judicial cooperation between Member States will also appear on the agenda of this new Commissioner. As far as ‘democratic change’ is concerned, it will take place through greater dialogue between the Commission and the European Parliament, greater transparency of lobbying activities in European institutions (mainly the Commission) and more developed interactions with the national parliaments. This partnership between the European institutions and the Member States will have to take place with the community method, warns the new President of the Commission. This meets the expectations of pro-Europeans and all those who call for a more democratic Europe, closer to its citizens.
For unity in diversity in Europe
Jean-Claude Juncker is neither idealist nor unconscious. He knows that most countries neither can nor want to move forward at the same speed towards in-depth integration. This is why, in a spirit of opening, he offers a hand to his opponents (mostly British), specifying that he will work with everyone ‘because we have to move forward as a Union’. This means that those who will wish to go quicker and further will have to be able to do so. Finally, loyal to a federalist vision and the principle of subsidiarity anchored in the European treaties, Jean-Claude Juncker hopes that Europe becomes ‘greater and more ambitious for the great stakes, smaller and more modest for the small agendas’.
‘This time, it is different’
To conclude, by reading the program of Jean-Claude Juncker, we can hope that the slogan of the European Parliament for the European elections finds an echo in the composition (as equal as possible in the desire of the new president of the Commission) and the policy conducted by the European Commission during the next five years. The federalists and other pro-Europeans can hope that ‘this time, it is different’. It remains to be seen from now whether acts will be followed by words, whether politicians will hold their word, whether changes will meet expectations.