And so the time has come. Jean-Claude Juncker, once again, will deliver of the State of the Union speech to an audience of Members of the European Parliament. A little different to the previous times, most of his audience is now in a mind-set of either planning their re-election, their transition into a well paid consultancy job, or their retirement.
Juncker, has nothing to prove; not any more. Under different circumstances, we would be giggling that Juncker managed to piece Europe back together after two terms of the Commission under José Manuel Barroso. But the grimness of the last half-decade has seen giggles turn to near panic as the EU’s political evolution at the national level has endangered the project.
Juncker managed to survive the tides of Europe’s migration crisis. Junker dealt with the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, in a shaky tight-rope balancing act.
Juncker also managed to handhold the EU’s 27 through the loss of a member of the family, the UK. Like a terminal patient on life support, we are witnessing the calm before the storm. So far, no family members have turned on each other in a fight over the inheritance.
The Commission president’s legacy, I suspect, will be underappreciated in the years to come – and this regardless of whether things become markedly better, or worse, in the EU. Citizens will read about the success of the ‘Juncker plan’ and the billions injected into the national economies, but most will never understand where that money went and how it benefits them, even though it has trickled through to their everyday lives. Many question, still today, whether Greece’s economy was worth saving. Even the Greeks themselves wonder whether they’d be better off if they had left the Euro. Yannis Varoufakis is still idolised by many who believe Greece was bullied into submission. The media continue to frame difficult to stomach reforms and pieces of EU law as being decided and dictated by a few people in dark corridors of Brussels.
Yet, it was not just the President who carried the torch. It was Martin Selmayr, who put into place a system of control and delivery for the most complex administrative machine in the world. It was the European Commissioners who fought tough battles against some of the strongest politicians and corporations in the world. Frans Timmermans and his fight for the rule of law – selective as it has been, has shown Europe is there to protect citizens no matter how rough it gets. Margrethe Vestager has delivered billions for the EU citizens in fines against some of the world’s most powerful companies. Even Dimitris Avramopoulos – with undoubtedly the most difficult portfolio in the Commission this term, has done everything humanly possible to manage Europe’s response to the mass influx of migrants in the last years. And the list of champions of Europe within the Commission goes on and on. From the Commissioners, to loyal cabinets, to the frontline spokesperson service, and all the way down the ranks of the Directorates-General, there are those that still fight for the European Union – the way it should be.
The unsung heroes, worth a mention on the back page of this newspaper, are the conscientious believers, who have at times risked their jobs for a better Europe. These are the few who sacrifice it all and turn whistle-blowers to Europe’s Anti-Fraud Office, or leak sensitive documents to the media out of that triad of exasperation, desperation, and determination.
In light of this State of the European Union address, it would be easy to make a list of all the things that have not been done to better Europe. Either by negligence, lack of control, or systemic immobility, the institutions of our European Union are still mired with inefficiencies and even maladministration. Yes, things are better than 5 years ago. Indeed, the multiple power centres behind the scenes – as far as the Commission goes, have largely been consolidated in a singular top-down structure. This in turn means that less has gone on without a system of accountability.