European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on the EU to build a stronger and more united Europe that will facilitate the efforts of each of its member-states to fully develop their potential, in his State of the Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.
“When we are united, we are a force to be reckoned with, something you cannot avoid,” Juncker said, in his final State of the Union speech ahead of the upcoming May 2019 European Parliament election.
“The geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come,” he added, saying that Europe is supposed to play a role on the global scene and shape global developments.
“It must become a more sovereign factor in international relations,” he said, adding that he was against unilateralism.
“I will always champion multilateralism,” Juncker said.
He described the EU as a guarantor of peace, and advocated patriotism that promotes unity, and called for the rejection of “unhealthy nationalism”.
“We should reject the kind of exaggerated nationalism that projects hate and destroys all in its path, the kind of nationalism that points the finger at others instead of searching for ways to better live together,” he said.
“I would like us to say no to unhealthy nationalism and yes to patriotism. The patriotism is two-fold, European and national,” Juncker added.
He went on to present three new and ambitious proposals to ensure full EU solidarity on migration, as well as better protection of Europe’s external borders.
“These new initiatives are being presented one week ahead of the informal meeting in Salzburg, and constitute a concrete contribution to the discussions that EU leaders are expected to have on migration. They are intended to facilitate an overall compromise on the ongoing reform of the EU’s asylum system,” he said.
He said that the proposals include reinforcing of border control units guarding EU’s external borders.
“Today’s proposals set a new level of ambition for the European Border and Coast Guard and the EU’s Agency for Asylum, reinforcing both to ensure that Member States can rely on full EU operational support at all times,” Juncker said.
The proposal made in the State of the Union speech includes a standing corps of 10,000 operational staff by 2020.
“Building on two years of work, the Commission is proposing to reinforce the European Border and Coast Guard even further and give it the right level of ambition, corresponding to the common challenges Europe is facing in managing migration and borders. While the mandate of the European Border and Coast Guard expands, it serves to support Member States and does not replace their responsibilities in external border management and return,” Juncker said.
Under the authority and control of EU countries to which they are deployed, members of the EU Border and Coast Guard standing corps will be able to carry out tasks requiring executive powers such as identity checks, authorising or refusing entry at the external borders, and intercepting people at the border.
The European Commission chief held out the promise of an EU-Africa trade pact as part of a ‘partnership of equals’ between the two continents, signalling Europe’s future stronger involvement in Africa.
Juncker described Africa as Europe’s “twin continent” and said that more should be invested “in our relationship with the nations of this great and noble continent.”
“Today, we are proposing a new Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs between Europe and Africa. This Alliance, as we envision it, would help create up to 10 million jobs in Africa in the next five years alone. I believe we should develop the numerous EU-African trade agreements into a continent-to-continent free trade agreement, as an economic partnership between equals,” said Juncker.
According to the European Commission, the EU is Africa’s biggest trading partner, and the EU remains the world’s most open market to African exports, especially in terms of manufactured and processed products. The EU currently has trade agreements with 37 African nations.