European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday that the EU must "become a more sovereign actor on the world stage." Juncker spoke at the State of the EU annual address that is set to be his last, as he is not seeking re-election.
The EC president tackled the various challenges that the bloc faces, such as migration policy, strengthening the euro, the upcoming exit of the UK from the EU and the rise of far-right parties. Juncker's speech comes just eight months before the upcoming EU parliamentary elections of 2019.
"If Europe were to unite all the political, economic and military might of its nations, its role in the world could be strengthened. We will always be a global payer but it is time we started being a global player too," the EC president said, outlining his vision for the continent.
What Juncker proposed:
- A trade deal with Africa, to attract more private investment to the continent and create up to 10 million jobs
- Tackling migration by increasing resources to the EU border and coastguard, which would add up to 10,000 border guards by 2020
- New rules to crack down on cross-border terrorism, election meddling and online terrorist content
- Promoting the euro currency abroad, to compete with the US dollar
- Maintaining close ties with the UK after Brexit through free trade agreement
- Abolishing EU-wide daylight savings time and allowing member states to decide
Why migration is such a hot topic: One of the biggest challenges for the bloc is the recent influx of migrants stemming from the crisis in Syria and from Africa, crossing the Mediterranean. The EU's quota system for refugee sharing has caused a split among its members. Countries such as Hungary and Poland have fought back on EU migration policy, seeking more sovereignty and a say in how many migrants their countries accept.
The controversy surrounding the euro: The standoff between Greece and the EU over austerity measures highlighted the challenge of having different economies, varying in strength, under a single currency. In 2018, Greece formally ended its last EU bailout program and while this was touted as a success, challenges remain and the threat that a similar crisis still hangs over the bloc.
EU unity under threat: The upcoming exit of the UK from the EU has led to messy negotiations and questions about the EU's future. The rise of populist far-right parties all across the continent, who advocate for greater national sovereignty and reduced integration, have posed a threat to the European project, challenged European identity and raised the question of whether other countries could follow the UK's path in the future.
jcg/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)