On 13 September, Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his State of the Union address at the European Parliament (EP). In the speech, he outlined his vision of a “ever-more-united Union.” The horizon for fulfilling the key proposals he has called for was set for 2019, the end of the present EP and European Commission mandate.
Juncker does not like the idea of differentiated integration. In his speech, he stressed that the euro was meant to be the single currency of the whole EU, and so he encouraged non-euro members to join the eurozone as soon as possible. The Economic and Monetary Union will be reformed, and he reiterated his call for the creation of a European Minister of Economy and Finance, but that reform is not meant to divide the EU members, he said. Hence, Juncker opposes a separate budget and parliament of eurozone members. The Schengen Area should also remain inclusive, he said. Juncker proposes expanding the zone to include Bulgaria and Romania immediately, and then Croatia once it meets all the criteria. He stressed there should be no second-class EU citizens, workers, or consumers in the EU, nor should the Union be limited to the single market. All its members must respect freedom, equality, and the rule of law, he emphasised.
In his vision, all EU countries interested in accession should already be in both the euro area and Schengen. On 30 March 2019, a special summit will be organised to launch a new phase of EU development without the UK. Juncker, therefore, does not expect the Brexit negotiations to be extended. However, he expects significant changes in the EU’s institutional setup post-Brexit. One change is combining the Commission and European Council presidencies. By this, he intends to strengthen European political parties, which under the Spitzenkandidaten (party list leader) system, would indicate candidates for these positions. This reform would change the nature of the EP elections. Juncker envisages pan-European campaigns and new funding rules for political parties and foundations operating at the EU level. To speed up the Union’s decision-making process, he also proposes broader use of qualified majority voting in the Council, including for foreign policy decisions. He said the changes can be introduced without treaty revision.
Opposition to division within the Union is a common element of both. The recipe proposed by the head of the EC to overcome them is, however, problematic for Poland. It means increasing pressure to quickly join the eurozone and was an announcement that the EC will continue efforts to fight so-called “social dumping.” The institutional reforms proposed by Juncker are controversial. Although the Polish government favours strengthening the democratic dimension of the EU, its proposals go in another direction. Rather than looking in the pan-European direction, it prefers the option of “intergovernmental democracy,” which is intended to restore member state control over the integration process. The proposal to extend the vote by qualified majority goes directly against the proposals of Poland, which prefers unanimity in making decisions in the EU.
Despite Juncker’s assurances that his proposals are in line with the Treaty of Lisbon, the proposed changes raise doubts of both a legal and political nature. For example, according to Art. 15 (2) TEU, the European Council consists of the heads of state or government, together with its president and the president of the Commission. An attempt to make the president of the European Council and the president of the Commission the same person is in this context controversial. In times of distrust in the establishment, the concentration of so much power in the hands of one person will raise fears. The idea of giving the election campaign a truly European dimension will be welcomed. This proposal has long enjoyed strong support in the EU. However, under the current EP election system, it is difficult to put this idea into practice.