“I am not a dreamer but sometimes I like to dream”: Jean-Claude Juncker, experienced politician, staunch Europeanist, has always described himself as a “concrete person.” He proved it on many occasions, like when, as Prime Minister, he defended the interests of Luxembourg (even when the Country was defined a “tax haven”), and now at the helm – a non always comfortable position – of the EU Commission. This time he indulged in confidences, despite – or perhaps because of – journalists’ attentive presence.
The coffee-break metaphor. The venue is the Berlaymont building that houses the executive in the heart of Brussels’ European neighbourhood. On Wednesday February 14 Juncker presented a set of possible “mini-reforms” to give new impetus to political integration. It’s his “act of love” on St. Valentine’s day, to a EU that is gasping for breath, stalked by nationalisms and populisms while internally victim of
dithering heads of Government and State who “can’t make up their minds.”
Juncker goes on with a metaphor: “If you ask the leaders gathered around a table what they want to drink, everyone responds in their own way. Coffee, coffee with milk, coffee with sugar, tea without sugar, mineral water, orange juice, soda … Each of them go their own way.”
Five endorsements. To this EU at the mercy of intergovernmental hesitancies, Juncker presented his five endorsements. First of all, he voiced his YES to a “two-chamber” EU, where Parliament and Council, with equal responsibility, decide, legislate, control the budget (namely, more power to MEPs elected by direct, universal suffrage). He voiced his endorsement to
the “Spitzenkandidaten” system, with “lead candidates” identified in advance for elections to the European Parliament; the lead candidate whose party obtains the largest share of votes becomes the President of the Commission (the formula was partly experimented in 2014). He went on to voice his endorsement to a translational constituency for European Parliament elections: Juncker said he “deplores” the EU Parliament’s no-vote to the proposal during last week’s session in Strasbourg (thus criticising also his own Party, the EPP). He said YES to a joint reflection on the composition of the European Commission (asking whether there should there be a representative from each Member State). Finally, the voiced the proposal of a single person to act as President of the European Council and President of the European Commission with dual appointment (“it is envisaged in the Treaties.”).
The role of citizens. Almost nobody noticed the sixth endorsement. Citizens, declared the Luxembourgian President, must recover a central role in political debate, they must “retake Europe.” This requires carrying out “Dialogues with citizens”, promoted in all member Countries in recent years: 450 to date. Juncker proposed 500 more, because all Europeans must be engaged and involved in the debate on the future of the Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker presented a set of “practical steps”, that “could make the European Union’s work more efficient, and improve the connection between the leaders of the EU institutions and the citizens of Europe” ahead of the informal meeting of heads of Government and State of EU-27 countries scheduled for February 23rd.
Choices and projects. The head of the Executive envisages a “Europe of results”, sharing his proposals with the College of Commissioners. Juncker explained: “With the Bratislava Roadmap, the Rome Declaration and now the Leaders’ Agenda”, proposed by European Council President Donald Tusk, “Europe has rightly been focused on creating a Union that delivers concrete and tangible results for its citizens on the issues that matter to them.” He remarked: “Now is not the time for long discussions of institutional reform or Treaty. There are, however, a number of steps we can take to make our work even more efficient in delivering on our key priorities. There are many options but the goal must be one and the same: creating a Europe that delivers.”
The election campaign. The proposals of the Commissioners’ College include an invitation to political parties “to choose the lead candidates earlier than last time, ideally by the end of 2018, and an earlier start to the campaign. This would give voters more opportunity to identify the candidates and the political programmes they stand for.” Moreover, the Commission recommends making more visible the links between national and European political parties: “Political parties should use the logs of the European parties they are affiliated to, (EPP, Socialists & Democrats, Conservatives, Greens, Liberal-Democrats, etc. – Ed.s note) for example by using their logos in campaign and ballot material. They should also position themselves clearly on important European issues.” Mentioning political parties and groups several times in a row, Juncker declared: “I speak with everyone except for the far right.” Exasperated anti-Europeanism and nationalisms irritate him.
London, Paris, Warsaw… Before bidding farewell to journalists and returning to his office, Juncker – who appeared tired and slightly worn out – devoted a few words to specific situations at national level: he said he welcomes the government agreement in German, praising its pro-European programme; he referred to French Macron as an “ally” in the relaunch of the EU; he highlighted the “ongoing dialogue” with the Polish Government, that caused more than a few headaches “we have good hopes that the positions” – of Brussels and Warsaw – “will fully coincide.” He went on to mention the United Kingdom and the Brexit “mistake”, the state of media communication in Italy ahead of national elections, the tense relations with Switzerland and Turkey. Finally, with reference to the multi-annual budget he said “NO to cuts” that some Governments ask for, because projects and investments in Europe need funding. “Some States want more money, others are unwilling to give more money to EU budget: but in this way the numbers don’t add up.”