Last Wednesday 9 September, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave his first State of the Union speech in the European Parliament plenary in Strassbourg. His 77-minute long speech, made in English and French, touched a variety of topics the European Union copes with these days. The basic opening message was very clear – the EU is not in a good place. There is war in Ukraine, in the Southern neighborhood, economic problems in Greece and elsewhere, imminent British EU membership referendum and, most of all, the gigantic migration flow with no end in sight.
On the migration issue, which took about a third of the overall speech, Jean-Claude Juncker stated that throughout history, everybody in Europe was in fact once a refugee. The EU, therefore, has an obligation to help those fleeing for their lives from dangerous war zones. The EC boss mentioned the emergency redistribution mechanism for 40 000 asylum-seekers, agreed on in June and supported in a non-binding vote by the MEPs at the very same plenary session. At the same time, though, since the migration flow surged in the recent weeks, the President announced that his Commission would formally propose a new emergency mechanism, this time for 120 000 refugees. And this time the redistribution should absolutely be binding – the first measure had only a binding objective, but the redistribution was made voluntary. As a consequence, not even the modest 40 000 have been relocated so far, while tens of thousands of new refugees have already entered the Union. Juncker also presented his plan to reform Frontex to be a true executive agency responsible for the protection of outside EU borders by the end of the year.
The new refugee quotas were scheduled to be discussed on Monday 14 September. European Council President Donald Tusk made it clear that failure to reach an agreement, which was expected to happen due to the opposition of some Eastern EU members, would result in an emergency EU summit dedicated to this topic.
POLITICO reported that Juncker made the speech in a very matter-of-fact, un-rhetoric, un-passionate way (although the contents were more passionate than the speeches in the past) – which is however the way the EU usually works. Some of the main messages were very clear, though – Juncker promised Schengen will not be unraveled while he is President, to give an example. Some Eurosceptic MEPs tried to disturb Juncker, but he was able to handle it. At the end of the speech, the EP President Martin Schulz offered Juncker the EP´s condolences for the loss of his mother he suffered the weekend before the speech and thanked him for delivering on his political duty as President anyway.
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