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Jean-Claude Juncker outlines vision to win back 'hearts and minds' of EU citizens

In his State of the Union speech, European Commission President Juncker has praised the bloc for "bouncing back" after 10 years of crises. He has outlined bold proposals for the eurozone, trade and migration.

Straßburg Rede von Jean-Claude Juncker (Reuters/C. Hartmann)

- European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has endorsed the creation of a eurozone finance minister role and a European monetary fund.

- The Commission chief has ruled out Turkish EU membership "in the foreseeable future."

- Juncker has called on European states to help improve the "scandalous" conditions in Libyan migrant centers to prevent people fleeing Africa to Italy by way of the Mediterranean.

- There were warm words for Balkan candidate countries.

- Future EU tax policy should be approved by a majority of member states, rather than the existing unanimity requirement, Juncker said.

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DW's Max Hofmann and EU affairs blogger Jon Worth on Juncker's "State of the EU"

'Wind back in Europe's sails'

Last year, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker had little to cheer about in his flagship address before the European Parliament. If anything, it was a call to stop the collapse of the EU. 

Now, a year on from Brexit and with European economies on the upswing, Wednesday's State of the Union speech struck a far more optimistic note, as Juncker praised the bloc's achievements over the last 12 months and laid out his vision for its future.

"After 10 years of crises, economies are on the rise and the European Union is bouncing back" he said. "The wind is back in Europe's sails, it now has a window of opportunity."

Protecting European businesses

On strengthening Europe's trade program, Juncker said that, "Europe has always been an attractive partner to trade with, and now countries from all over the world are knocking on our door."

Juncker cited the bloc's recent trade agreements with Canada and Japan, and called on a speedy conclusion to ongoing talks with Mexico and the South American trading bloc, Mercosur. Juncker also said talks should also begin with Australia and New Zealand.

Regulatory reforms aimed at protecting European businesses from undesired foreign takeovers and investment were also among the proposals made by the former Luxembourg prime minister.

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Under the so-called investment screening proposal, any proposed takeover of "strategic EU assets" will be subject to strict criteria that must meet the values of the member state in question. That includes crucial state infrastructure - such as ports or airports - or firms dealing with security technology.

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Stemming migration

On migration, Juncker announced that the European Commission would outline a new migrant deportation policy by the end of the month.

In a call for increased border security on Europe's borders, the European Commission president emphasized the need to unburden countries, such as Greece and Italy, where many migrants have landed.

"Italy saves Europe's honor," said Juncker, praising the Mediterranean nation for its perseverance and generosity in its handling of the crisis.

Juncker furthermore called on EU member states to work together to improve the "scandalous" conditions for migrants in Libya

Read more: UN slams EU over brutality migrants face in Libya

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Eurozone reforms

The Commission chief endorsed key reforms to Europe's economic and monetary union, namely the creation of a eurozone finance minister and a European monetary fund.

Juncker's proposal could be music to the ears of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has argued that the euro needs its own, stronger institutions to prevent another debt crisis. However, the proposal will likely be met with tepid reactions in Berlin, which has largely dismissed reform calls for the common currency.

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The Commission chief said the new finance minister role would combine the roles of EU commissioner and the head of the Eurogroup. 

Juncker also endorsed an EU-wide adoption of the euro currency. Denmark and Sweden, who in referendums both rejected the euro, would be exempt.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble welcomed Juncker's idea for pan-EU use of the euro, but said the same conditions must be met by all member states.

"It's good that he's applying some pressure and picking up the tempo," for adoption of the euro across the bloc, said Schäuble, but said that countries must demonstrate that they "have a stable, hard currency," first.

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Strong words for Poland, Hungary and Turkey

Brussels' recent tensions with Poland and Hungary have prompted concerns over the safeguarding of EU values in eastern Europe.

"Those states who are not capable of democracy, are not worthy of Europe," Juncker said.

The governments of both countries have taken an illiberal turn in recent years. The Polish government's decision to push through judicial reforms allowing the government to elect Supreme Court judges has led the Commission to threaten invoking "Article 7" of the European Treaty, which would suspend Poland's EU voting rights and even cut off EU funding.

That attack was also aimed at Turkey, which he accused of "creating ground for membership talks to fail" and "moving away from the European Union in leaps and bounds."

Ankara's attitude "rules out EU membership for Turkey in the foreseeable future," the European Commission President said.

There were, however, warm words for the western Balkan states, which Juncker said should have a realistic chance of joining the EU by 2019. 

dm/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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