“There’s a storm outside my window
Moving close to me… Moving from the dark”
Jean-Claude Juncker, the Chief of the European Commission has held his maiden speech for a large public: the State of the Union.
Everybody who was fearing yet another “neither fish nor fowl”, sleeping pill speech for which Juncker’s predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso was so infamous, would soon be rudely woken up by the direct tone of voice and the penetrating message of Juncker.
Juncker meant business in his speech and we can’t praise him enough for that.
Juncker: “Es fehlt an Europa in diese europäischen Union und es fehlt an Union in diese europäischen Union” (the title of this article is a literal translation of this outcry).
The follow snippet is from the introduction of Juncker’s speech. I consider this speech almost a must-read for every intellectual European and every endorser-by-heart of the European Union:
Having campaigned as a lead candidate, as Spitzenkandidat, in the run up to the elections, I had the opportunity to be a more political President.
This political role is foreseen by the Treaties, by means of which the Member States made the Commission the promoter of the general interest of the Union. But the crisis years have diminished this understanding.
This is why I said last September before this House that I wanted to lead a political Commission. A very political Commission.
I said this not because I believe we can and should politicise everything.
I said it because I believe the immense challenges Europe is currently facing – both internally and externally – leave us no choice but to address them from a very political perspective, in a very political manner and having the political consequences of our decisions very much in mind.
Recent events have confirmed the urgent need for such a political approach in the European Union. This is not the time for business as usual.
This is not the time for ticking off lists or checking whether this or that sectorial initiative has found its way into the State of the Union speech.
This is not the time to count how many times the word social, economic or sustainable appears in the State of the Union speech.
Instead, it is time for honesty.
Because our European Union is not in a good state.
We have to change this. And we have to change this now.
Perhaps surprising, in spite of the fact that Jean Claude Juncker is officially a powerful man in the European context, Juncker's power to directly address and direct the “28 frogs in a wheelbarrow” (i.e. the member states) is extremely limited, in my humble opinion.
Of course, the European Commission prepares the legislation and has the executive power within the European Union, but the European Council has the final saying in about every political decision and the individual countries are the main (non-)performers of the European legislation.
And that is the very heart of the matter, as well as the reason for Juncker’s desperate outcry. He does not have the power to bind the Union members together and the union members themselves are currently floating away from each other on the wave of unhealthy nationalism that is currently going through the European Union; a wave for which I already warned as soon as 2011:
But when commercials and marketing in general start to bang the nationalist drum, there is really something going on. Marketing men investigate the results when they try something. And it seems they liked what they tried.
I hope we can avoid the pivotal point where a “healthy”, normal nationalism turns into a “you are second-rate people, because you are not Dutch” kind of nationalism. We do have some bad experiences with it.
At this moment, all the things and circumstances that bind the members of the European Union seem to vanish in thin air, while the things and circumstances that divide the EU members seem to be paramount at the moment:
- The United Kingdom seems heading for the fire exit, after PM David Cameron opened Pandora’s Box with his announcement of the referendum upon Britain’s future in the European Union, to be held in 2017 or (much) earlier;
- Hungary has erected its version of the Berlin Wall at
the border with Serbia, after the country had been flooded with refugees, and has turned towards an increasingly malodorant
nationalism during recent years, culminating in a reporter tripping running refugees on national television;
- Austria tries to help Hungary... a little, but it especially tries to avoid being flooded by refugees itself. Therefore the country closed down the most important railroad connections with Budapest;
- Greece is licking its wounds from the recent battles with the other members of the Euro-zone and mostly disregards the refugee needs that will cost the country a lot of money, like housing, education and training, giving only the most direct and necessary aid to their refugees;
- Germany is – luckily – playing the role of the Good Samaritan, with its friendly face turned towards the refugees. Still, latent racism is always looming in the formerly East-German cities and the Germans friendliness spreads a strong odour of desire for “cheap sources of labour”. By itself, this is not so bad at all, but it looks a lot like self-interest, in a country where more and more people work via extremely cheap, flexible labour contracts and less and less workers receive steady contracts with a decent salary;
- Danmark is currently crying out: “Not in my backyaaaaard!!!!” and closed down the railroad traffic and motorways with Germany to stop the influx of refugees, heading for Sweden;
- The Netherlands is working on an utterly ridiculous plan to look after refugees “in the region of their home country” alone and arrange their asylum affairs overthere. In exchange, the Dutch want to pay the neighbouring countries of the conflict zones, in order to solve the European refugee problem without bothering the Europeans themselves. Thus the country is totally ignorant of the fact that already millions of refugees live there, under often terrible circumstances in refugee camps;
- And except for Germany, few of the other European countries are bothering to help their fellow European countries in need, like Italy, Greece and Hungary to partially release them from their refugee problem. Instead they drag their feet and look at their shoes, when asked for aid, regarding the enormous influx of refugees by sea or land.
Juncker was right: there is indeed not enough Europe in the European Union and not enough Union in the European Union these days!
Nevertheless, the leaders of European Union – at whom this outcry was directly aimed – will probably either react indignant about Junckers outcry or – the total opposite – utterly ignorant, acting it was all none of their concern.
So in the end, the effect of Juncker’s speech will probably be close to nought against the liberal-conservative politicians, who are so omnipresent in today’s Europe and who have a keen eye for the fact that many Europeans want less Europe, instead of more Europe.
And this very speech might even become fodder for the populists, who will make minced meat of this “European Apparatchik” with his hidden agenda for an ever closer union.
So what will probably happen in the coming weeks, is that the messenger Jean-Claude Juncker will be killed (i.e. ridiculized) and the EU will muddle through the refugee problem after all for a number of years; just like it muddled through the Greek problem and earlier muddled through the Euro problem for a long period of time.
And so even the most diehard fans of Europe could lose their patience and finally give up on the EU.
Hopefully, the increasingly nationalist member states of the European Union remember in time for which the European Union was established in the first place and in the aftermath of which devastating event. Yet, I’m not optimistical about this insight, landing in time in the hearts and minds of the European decision makers.
But please, read Juncker’s speech before you give up on Europe. It might be worth your while…