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The State of the European Union 2017: "Catching the wind in our sails"
"The wind is back in Europe's sails. But we will go nowhere unless we catch that wind…..now is the time to build a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe for 2025." That was the key message from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in his annual State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech today.
The speech had two main parts, one on the Commission's intentions for the rest of its mandate until autumn 2019 and the other setting out Mr Juncker's longer-term vision for the future of Europe.
He reiterated his regret at the UK leaving the EU but added that "Brexit is not the future of Europe […] on 30 March 2019, we will be a Union of 27. I suggest that we prepare for this moment well."
Roadmap to 2019
On the economic side, the President announced new European Commission initiatives on trade, notably the screening of foreign takeovers and on making industry more competitive.
He also trailed new measures on reducing transport emissions to help "make our planet great again", cybersecurity and further improving the response to the migration crisis.
Mr Juncker unveiled a taskforce to be chaired by First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, to further cut red tape and make sure the EU is only intervening where it adds value. Where previous Commissions proposed over 100 new initiatives a year, the Juncker Commission now puts forward fewer than 25.
A longer-term view
Mr Juncker insisted that the EU must always represent "a Europe of values": freedom, equality and the rule of law.
He added that "a more united Union should see compromise, not as something negative, but as the art of bridging differences."
He called for all member states to move towards joining the euro, the Banking Union and the Schengen area and offered additional support to help them do so.
Acknowledging the need for a socially fairer Europe, he urged member states to agree by November on the Commission's proposal for a European Pillar of Social Rights: "Europe cannot work if it shuns workers."
While ruling out immediate enlargement of the EU, the Commission President said a "credible perspective" for Western Balkans countries to join was necessary. However, Turkey had been "taking giant strides away from the European Union" and would not join "for the foreseeable future."
Mr Juncker backed significant reforms of the way the EU works, including merging the roles of the European Council and Commission Presidents into a single job, appointing a European Minister of Economy and Finance, more qualified majority voting (as opposed to the current unanimity) on tax issues and the setting up of a European anti-terrorist intelligence unit.
SOTEU 2017 website, including factsheets
Every year in September, the European Commission President delivers his State of the Union Address before the European Parliament, whose elected representatives decide along with national Ministers on EU laws. The speech takes stock of the past year and presents priorities for the year ahead and for the longer-term.