The yearly State of the (European) Union speech by the European Commission President is a solemn moment. After EU public affairs professionals come back to work hopefully all rested after the summer break, this speech delivered in front of the European Parliament is the opportunity to get out of the day-to-day details of legislative policy making and reaffirm the high-level politics that drive any regulatory proposal.
While last year’s speech was darkened by the decision of UK citizens to leave the EU, this time Juncker deliberately delivered an optimistic speech. He emphasized the fact that Europe is in a good shape after 5 years of recovery, 2 years of higher growth than in the US and the lowest rate of unemployment since 2009. To Juncker, this means now is the time to be ambitious about Europe. In that respect, he made (or endorsed) a few bold proposals:
President Macron’s proposal for transnational lists for the European Parliament elections – In the context of the emergence across Europe of new political movements that have disrupted the traditional left-right divides, this will give these movements an opportunity to develop a European network and consolidate their presence in the European Parliament.
Merging the Commission President role with that of the European Council President – At the moment they both represent the EU in international forums, which is confusing (Who shall I call to speak to Europe?).
The creation of a new European Minister of Economy and Finance – which would elevate the European Commissioner in charge of Economics and Finance to Commission Vice President and Chair of the Eurogroup.
While a detailed list of the upcoming concrete policy proposals of the European Commission can be found in the accompanying letter of intent, the 2017 State of the Union speech presented the priority proposals of the Commission, among which:
Trade – A Trade Package was published on the same day of the speech. The most important aspect Juncker underlined is that from now on, the Commission will publish all draft negotiating mandates for trade agreements before they are presented to the Council. This gesture shows that the Commission believes no future trade agreement can pass without social legitimacy. This was shown by the rejection of ACTA following civil society protests, the difficulties around the approval of CETA and how TTIP lost its legitimacy in the eyes of civil society due to being perceived as the product of opaque negotiations. Another proposal showing a significant change of approach in this area is that for an EU framework for “Investment Screenings” which is EU jargon for giving the opportunity for debate in case European harbours, energy infrastructures or defense technology companies are being sold to non-EU buyers.
A new European strategy for the industry so European industries become world champions in innovation, decarbonisation, and digitalisation.
Proposals for Europe to be at the forefront of the fight against climate change, notably by proposals to reduce carbon emissions in road transport (November 2017).
Cybersecurity strategy – A package of proposals in response to the fact that last year only, 80% of EU companies faced a cybersecurity incident.
Other significant announcements include:
Full support of vaccines – Juncker stated it is unacceptable that in Europe, children still die of diseases that should have long been eradicated. He added that Romanian and Italian children should have the same access to measles vaccine than any other child in Europe. He therefore strongly stated his full support of national vaccine plans.
Proposals to adapt the EU budget to new ambitions (May 2018).
Moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the Council on areas such as VAT, taxation of the digital economy and the financial transaction tax. This can be done without Treaty change, he argued.
Does this seem like a lot? To top it off, President Juncker added that all these proposals will be presented by May 2018, to give them enough time to be adopted before EU leaders shift their focus onto the May 2019 European elections. This means there is a heavy workload ahead!