European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s ambitious vision for a strong and united Europe 2025 in the annual “State of the Union” debate on September 13 received plenty of feedback from political groups.
Plans on defence, security, legal migration, international trade, social equality and on how to strengthen the EU’s budgetary capacity and democratic decision-making process were discussed by political group leaders in a three-hour debate.
Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, welcomed Juncker, the college of Commissioners and the Estonian Presidency of the Council to Parliament for the annual “State of the Union” debate. He outlined European citizens’ expectations for more cooperation between EU institutions and member states on migration, terrorism, economic growth and social rights.
EPP group President Manfred Weber (DE) also welcomed Juncker’s vision for deepening the EU. He said: “The world does not wait for us”. But he highlighted people’s worries, like the fear of globalisation: “we need a social market economy”, and also to “secure our borders to stop illegal migration”.
S&D leader Gianni Pittella (IT) proposed that EU member states “hit all multinationals which defraud fiscal authorities by obliging them to refund”, adopt measures “against the exploitation of young people” and a “child guarantee” and ensure education and shelter for all children in the EU. On migration, he called on the EU Commission to “have the courage to open legal channels”, as closing illegal routes is not enough.
Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) underlined that, if it really wants to protect citizens, “Europe can´t be protectionist”. In order for the European economy to thrive, we need to create more opportunities, not more regulations, he said, adding that “EU growth plans don´t create jobs. Businesses create jobs”. People outside the European Parliament want to know that we “continue to steady the ship and will not set sail into yet more storms,” he said.
ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt (BE) said Juncker’s speech was “full of vision and ambition for 2019”, partly because “a lot has changed”, with the “populist spring” grinding to a halt in Austria, the Netherlands and France. “Welcome all to the side of reason!”, he said, adding that “Only Nigel Farage doesn’t get it!”, referring to a majority of EU citizens wanting more European action. “The EU is necessary to withstand alt-right governments.”
Patrick Le Hyaric, Vice-Chair of the GUE/NGL group, suggested turning the Juncker fund into a large social and environmental fund. “There is an urgent need to exit the competition EU and build a Union combining social humanism and ecological progress with a fair directive for posted workers, minimum wages, pension protection, poverty eradication and equality between men and women,” he added.
Philippe Lamberts (BE), co-chair of the Greens/EFA, advocated “reconciling European citizens with the very idea of the EU”. To do so, Juncker’s speech should have sought to “reduce inequalities”, “limit our ecological impact to the bounds set by nature”, “reorient trade policy”, “freeze CETA”, “get rid of glyphosate and strengthen the definition of endocrine disrupters”, he added.
Harald Vilimsky (ENF, AT) stressed that his group does not want the “failed” Euro to expand and opposes a Defence Union and free movement of workers within the EU. Internal borders must be kept up to stop “millions of Africans and Arabs swamping the Union”, he concluded.