Ten priorities for Juncker’s Europe

Jean-Claude Juncker will have considerable authority as new European Commission president, and he must use it to embody a new vision for the European Union

ECFR Alumni · Former head of ECFR Paris Office

“Now that you are a fact, we shall deal with you.” In his Mémoires, Jean Monnet remembers the ambiguity and pragmatism of British diplomacy, in the wake of the European community’s emergence 50 years ago. Having splendidly ignored, then despised, then tried to torpedo the initiatives to build the European Coal and Steel Community, Great Britain spoke through the voice of its diplomat Sir Roger Makins.

Today, Great Britain faces another harsh reality: Jean-Claude Juncker will preside over the European Commission and he will do so after enduring one of the most violent and denigrating campaigns by the British press, among others. The results seem all the more pitiable for David Cameron: apart from the ultranationalist Viktor Orban, first minister of Hungary and a friend and admirer of Vladmir Putin, not one of the other 28 heads of states of the European Union dared join the British position.

Now that it is a fact, this election is excellent news for the European Union, but also for Great Britain. For the European Union, the double legitimacy of Jean-Claude Juncker, parliamentary candidate named under the quasi-unanimity of the European Council, will give him considerable authority. He will need it to get the Union out of the rut it was placed in by his predecessor, José Manuel Barroso. Ten priority files are waiting for him:

1.     How to revive European growth in the wake of an aging population with 25 million unemployed, 5 million of whom are young people?

2.     How to give Europe common energy politics? The stalemates and absurdities of unilateral politics are in evidence daily: inflated costs of overtaxed energy for the industry as well as for the household (particularly in France); overpollution tied to the abundance of coal (particularly in Germany); growing dependence on Russian gas, at the time that Mr. Putin's diplomatic agenda becomes a military agenda.

3.     How to finance and implement instruments and a common defence and security policy, in a continent more and more exposed to outside threats and terrorism on its own territory?

4.     Which transatlantic pact can be written when American allies seem increasingly hostile towards European interests (re: the BNP Paribas issue and maybe more to come)?

5.     What kind of trans-Mediterranean pact can we create with Africa (particularly francophone Africa) when the continent is getting off the ground spectacularly in growth, in demography, but also in instability?

6.     How to respond humanely and responsibly to the massive and unending growth of the Extra-European migrations that cause humanitarian catastrophes at the gates of Europe (Lampedusa), and surges of violence and xenophobia within Europe?

7.     After having successfully – though by force – implemented the eurozone banking union, how can we consolidate the monetary, budgetary, and fiscal union of a group that forms the core of European Union?

8.     How to reconcile on the one hand the necessary objective of balanced public accounts for each country (deficits no higher than 3 percent of GDP), as this excessive tolerance creates an accumulation of unacceptable debts for future generations, with, on the other hand, the urgent need for a European “Marshall Plan” to put millions of Europeans to work on the creation of competitive infrastructures in twenty-first century security (digital, energy, and transportation)?

9.     How to (re)build a European identity – one without tribalism and nationalism, but with original humanism, openness to others, and diversity?

10.  Finally, how to develop a European education, culture, and reading of history that respects the identities and differences of all individuals (of all sexes, religions, and ethnicities) and fundamental liberties, especially their liberty of expression, without trying to impose a one-size-fits-all model? 

There will be plenty of major issues for Mr Juncker's future European Commission. It will succeed in its mandate, if paradoxically, it takes into complete account the legitimacy of the British critiques that nourished Mr Cameron’s indefensible revenge. The future commission should no longer be a directionless bureaucracy, dispersed among an absurd number of commissioners (28), each of whom is looking to exist in the media and maintain their services rather than work with the humility of Jean Monnet and the real concern for efficiency of the British on the large topics only. These have been described above.

In order to succeed, Mr Juncker will have to embody a new reality and vision for the European Union. He will do so by widening the Commission’s focus and relocating numerous prerogatives and responsibilities at the national and local stages.

Mr Juncker will not be able to accomplish everything. And more than a little will also depend on the rest of this team and the abilities of the politicians sent from member states. But it is a good list of summer homework for the nascent Juncker Commission to start on. 

This is an updated and adapted translation of an article originally published in Les Echos on 1 July.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

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ECFR Alumni · Former head of ECFR Paris Office