Juncker calls on EU to seize chance to become major sovereign power

European commission president sets out vision of how to expand EU’s ‘clout’ on world stage

The European Union must turn into a major sovereign power on the global stage making the world in its image, Jean-Claude Juncker has said, setting out plans to make Europe militarily and economically independent from its traditional ally the US.

In his state of the union speech, titled The Hour of European Sovereignty, the European commission president appealed to MEPs and heads of government to give the EU the powers and characteristics traditionally restricted to states.

Explaining his expansive vision, Juncker said the EU should aim to surpass the dominance of the dollar in the world economy and challenge China in its attempts to become the ascendant influence in Africa.

The EU should be “a global player” as well as a “global payer”, Juncker said, with foreign policy decisions made on the basis of a qualified majority vote in which the will of 55% of member states would win the day.

Through trade deals, the EU’s standards and labour conditions were being exported across the world, he said, and it was time for the continent to further use its “clout” to mould the future.

“The geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come,” Juncker told the European parliament in Strasbourg. “It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit – the capacity to play a role, as a union, in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.”

Later, asked by the BBC whether he wanted the EU to have superpower status, Juncker was cautious in his language. “I want the EU to become a major player in the global scene,” he said. “Superpower, I don’t like that expression. We have to be super but not a superpower.”

But Juncker’s direction of travel was clear. Although Donald Trump was never directly named, the US president was referred to throughout the speech.

Traditional international alliances could collapse and the EU needed its independence, Juncker told MEPs. “We will not militarise the European Union,” he said. “What we want is to become more autonomous and live up to our global responsibilities.”

Juncker expressed his disapproval of those who pursued unilateral actions, waging trade and currency wars.

Speaking hours before MEPs voted to trigger the bloc’s most serious sanctions procedure against Hungary for its threat to the rule of law, Juncker conceded that the EU was “imperfect”.

But he appealed to heads of government to end the recent squabbling and divisive rhetoric and seize the moment rather than risk letting the continent slide into diplomatic conflict or worse.

“In 1913, Europeans expected to live a lasting peace,” Juncker said. “And yet, just a year later, a brutal war broke out amongst brothers, engulfing the continent. I speak of these times not because I believe we are on the brink of another catastrophe, but because Europe is the guardian of peace.

“We should be thankful we live on a peaceful continent, made possible by the European Union. So let us show the European Union a bit more respect. Let us stop dragging its name through the mud, and start defending our communal way of life more.”

A more detailed section of Juncker’s speech related to Africa, where he said the EU should transition from merely providing development aid towards treating the continent as an equal.

He said it was in Europe’s interest to engage with Africa on a more significant basis, with other global powers – particularly China – having already made their imprint there. Further trade deals should be sealed and private and public partnerships used to unlock economic potential, Juncker said.

“By 2050 Africa’s population will number 2.5 billion,” Juncker said. “One in four people on Earth will be African. We need to invest more in our relationship with the nations of this great and noble continent. And we have to stop seeing this relationship through the sole prism of development aid.

“Africa does not need charity, it needs true and fair partnerships. And Europe needs this partnership just as much.”


Daniel Boffey in Strasbourg

The GuardianTramp

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