In Brussels, the EU is back in full swing after an unusually quiet August.
While Brexit negotiations have taken on a life of their own, EU 27 retains focus on the future of the union.
The political and economical situation internally in the EU is the most stable since the financial crisis in 2008, and new polls show that support for the EU among Europeans is the highest in years. The Commission must, together with the European Parliament and the member states of the Council, take advantage of this to reach agreements on a range of important political issues before the European Parliament elections in 2019.
The EU Commission has already launched most of their proposals. Most of the priorities are well chosen, so it is now a matter of delivering - and Juncker should make this clear in his speech.
Juncker’s primary message should be that the EU’s greatest success is the prosperity that open societies and open markets contribute to. This creates security and opportunities for citizens in a global political climate characterised by uncertainty and unpredictability. Juncker must therefore affirm:
That the trade agreement with Japan must be finalised, and the current negotiations with Mexico and Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) must continue and provide new opportunities for European businesses. Meanwhile, Juncker must clearly speak out against the pressure for increased protectionism and provide clear support for balanced free trade.
That the EU’s internal market for goods and services must be improved. Trade barriers must be removed and existing rules must be better enforced. According to the Commission, ambitious implementation of the existing services directive alone would increase the EU’s GDP by 1.8 per cent.
That the EU’s Energy Union must be negotiated in a way that creates opportunities for modern energy solutions in Europe while simultaneously contributing to sustainable and competitive energy for consumers and businesses. A new electricity market design that creates an actual internal market for energy should take highest priority. The same applies to a carbon emissions trading system that works.
That the EU must achieve its goal of creating an internal digital market that allows for online shopping across borders. The Commission estimates that a well-functioning internal digital market can contribute 415 billion euro to the EU’s economy, but that requires that the comprehensive reform proposals be agreed upon and implemented.
But EU member states are also facing basic challenges that Juncker ought to address in what will be his third State of the Union speech. The other primary message in Juncker’s speech should be about the management of migrants and refugees:
The EU has done a great deal in recent years and the migration crisis is on the decline, but efforts to improve border control at the EU’s external borders and strengthen cooperation on the management of refugees and migrants, including strengthening of agreements with third-party countries, must continue. The situation must be secured in the long term, because it is crucial for the open way in which European society functions, exemplified by the Schengen cooperation, which benefits both citizens and businesses.
The Commission will soon present a new proposal for the EU budget. The budget needs to accomplish a lot and be offset against the development of the eurozone and Brexit. But first and foremost, the budget must be used to solve the common challenges that the EU faces - whether it is about migration, the climate challenge, terror and crime or defence and security. Juncker ought to address this while the Commission also boldly attempts to find funds for areas such as education, research, innovation and infrastructure, which will help secure Europe’s competitiveness in the long term.
Finally, Juncker obviously cannot abstain from taking a stance on Brexit. Here, he should communicate the necessary balance between securing unity and effectiveness within EU 27, including protection of the EU’s internal market, and taking a pragmatic approach to the negotiations with the UK, with a clear view of the economic reality and the importance of good relations between the EU and the UK in the future.
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker will hold his annual State of the Union speech 13 September at 9AM. It will take place in Strasbourg during the European Parliament’s first plenary session after the summer holiday.