A message of connection

Monday, 2018-09-17 16:59:39
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European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. (Reuters)
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NDO – “A connected Europe” is the expectation that European Commission (EC) President, Jean-Claude Juncker, would like to transmit via his fourth and final State of the Union. An ambitious goal that the EC leader is moving towards is to build a global vision aiming to strengthen the European Union’s (EU) international position.

The annual State of the Union was announced by the EC President as the campaign for the 2019 European Parliament election has just been launched, populism is rising strongly, and the EU is still faced by countless challenges and fears that threaten the survival of the coalition itself. Thus, the ideas and proposals that Juncker put forth in this important document highlighted an urgent task to consolidate internal solidarity, strengthen economic and strategic connectivity, and to expand cooperation, seeking to preserve and enhance the international status of the EU.

Juncker began his term as EC President in 2014, when the public debt crisis in Greece culminated and became the biggest challenge threatening to break the institution constructed by the EU thus far. In addition to the debt issue of Athens, the EU has continuously faced tough challenges, including the immigration crisis, security and anti-terrorism, and the UK’s decision to leave the union (Brexit) that shocked the entire “old continent. However, it is the intra-bloc divisions and policy conflicts between the EU and several new member states that pose the biggest challenges and threaten to “split” the EU.

As the public debt crisis in Greece had yet to cool down, the immigration crisis blossomed in 2015, not only revealing weaknesses in the EU’s policy on refugees and immigrants, but also exposing the existing rifts and divisions between the EU member countries. The inequitable pressure on “frontline” nations, such as Greece, Italy and Spain, concerning the reception of migrants to Europe has caused the handling of the immigrant crisis, which is considered a “test of EU solidarity”, to end up in failure. The immigration crisis in Europe has been taking place for three years, but the EU has yet to adopt a common policy and is yet to resolve conflicts between the member states on the issue of refugee reception.

The refugee crisis places the burden on the EU people, becoming part of the cause of the rise of populism, immigrant boycotts and skepticism of European integration. The immigration crisis is also said to bring new security challenges to the “old continent.” The EU’s “vulnerability” is becoming increasingly conspicuous, while the ability to defend itself against security threats and terrorism has somewhat declined. It is also one of the factors causing divisions within the EU, with several member countries favouring benefits and returning to national policies, even conflicting with the common interests and regulations of the EU. Meanwhile, Brexit has been described as a “heavy blow” to the EU’s inherently difficult integration process, with many even considering it as a major failure of the bloc.

In its external relations, the EU has been involved in a dispute with the US, not just concerning trade, but also security and international issues, such as the Iran nuclear issue and the efforts to combat climate change. A key has yet to be found to the disagreements between the allies, making the trans-Atlantic relations constantly uncertain. The intra-bloc divisions, the weak economic growth and the defense dependence on its US ally are making it impossible for the EU to make leaps forward, in both its internal affairs and its voice at international forums.

Given such a “dividing” status, it is not difficult to understand why the EC leader gave particular emphasis on the theme of solidarity in “a connected Europe”. According to Juncker, in order to restore and strengthen the international position of the EU, reform is of great significance and a path of top priority for the EU at present. If it wants to play a greater role as an “architect” in international issues, the EU needs to be stronger, through its strong common policies, especially in terms of foreign affairs.

Juncker’s final State of the Union as President of the EC contains a vision for the future of the EU. But it is not easy to turn these ambitious goals into reality, especially in the context of many disagreements and internal divisions in such a union of European nations.