Contrary to what was announced it was neither a legacy nor a last exit. As of now, the 2018 State of the European Union speech is simply the last speech by the President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.
President Juncker reeled off the goals achieved by the Commission in 2014-2018, that regardless of the success of their implementation didn’t manage to redefine the EU project. Greece’s suffering was showcased as an example of how to successfully overcome the economic crisis with austerity while disregarding the social factor. It was said that the “EU was to take better care of the Social Dimension” and that legal action should be a follow-up to the Gothenburg Summit, but it was not stated how, nor was the European Pillar of Social Rights or at least social investment, in broader terms, clearly mentioned at any stage. In his 55 minute speech he didn't think of mentioning civil society organisations, who together with the trade unions are crucial for the implementation of the pillar and the progressive social agenda.
The (only) concrete proposal to move to a Qualified Majority Vote (QMV) when it comes to foreign policy is welcomed. President Juncker stressed that Europe needs to speak with one voice especially on human rights and at the UN HR Council. So QMV should be used in matters of foreign policy. The same should apply to certain tax matters where QMV should be in place.
Redefining Europe would mean overcoming austerity – once again sold as a success story, instead of adopting the radical social transformational agenda that is needed. Education popped up only fleetingly in the entire speech, and only in reference to the increase in the Erasmus+ budget foreseen by the Commission for the next MFF. It was certainly not enough. When talking about education we need to tackle validation and recognition, so not only should qualified migrants have a place in our societies, we need the methodologies to recognise the work done outside classrooms and lifelong learning to ensure our societies are synced with current reality.
Moreover, Juncker’s intentions have changed over time. While at the very beginning of this mandate it was unambiguously said that no accession would be discussed during this mandate, President Juncker is now passing on the heavy burden of recognising the importance of the Balkan region in the European project to the next mandate.
There are more contradictions. “Europe will never be a fortress, turning its back on the world or those suffering within it”, President Juncker said, but in fact it is, when the only approach adopted for migration, so far, is contention. The importance of investment for the integration of third-country nationals is overturned by the discourse on security and border control. Relations with Africa continue to be based upon a post-colonialist culture that places benefits for Europe ahead of mutual social development. On a similar note, not a single word was spent on sustainability and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The heavy wording was applied: sovereignty, patriotism and multilateralism. But if “enlightened patriotism” means patrolling borders over saving lives, not only does Europe choose to be a fortress, it also decides to abandon the peace project that it was conceived to be.
The unity of the European Union should not be defined by its fears and reacting towards external influence, or the partial loss of free movement as one of the prices we have to pay.
Finally, we don’t need “more solidarity for the sake of efficiency”. We need solidarity and upward social convergence to bring East, West, North and South closer together. Indeed, “the world we live in belongs to all and not a select few”.
There is no doubt that Commission President Juncker is a convinced European and believes in Europe. The differences is only in which Europe. In light of the up-coming European elections, the difference between the progressive and conservative choices needs to be clear. It is time for a radical change towards a progressive, socially stronger Europe!