STRASBOURG – EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker used his ‘State of the Union’ address to the European Parliament Wednesday to put forward a raft of measures to tackle Europe’s migration crisis.
The annual State of the Union debate is a chance for MEPs to scrutinise the work and the plans of the European Commission and help set the future direction for the EU. This year’s debate was seen as especially important because it is the last before the European election in May 2019 and a new Commission takes over.
In his speech, Mr Juncker announced Commission initiatives on migration and borders, security, free and secure elections, as well as the European Union‘s partnership with Africa.
The EU need to be seen as a global actor, he told the Parliament, saying it should speak and act as one on a global stage, defend its democratic values and turn its back on poisonous nationalism.
“The EU is a global payer, but must also become a global player,” he said. “There are no guarantees that our allies of yesterday will remain our allies of tomorrow,” he added, announcing further proposals to strengthen the Defence Union, step up protection of EU external borders and reinforce the Euro as an international currency. “It is absurd that the EU pays 80 pre cent of its bill for energy imports in dollars…whilst only 2% of those energy imports come from the US,” he said.
The Commission president also called on Europeans to reject “the kind of exaggerated nationalism that projects hate and destroys all in its path. The kind of nationalism that points the finger at others instead of searching for ways to better live together.”
Migration was a key focus of the address, a possibly belated response to public concern and the rise of populist nationalist policies and the far-right across Europe.
Mr Juncker said EU efforts to manage migration had borne fruit: “arrivals have been drastically reduced – down 97% in the Eastern Mediterranean and 80% in the Central Mediterranean. EU operations have helped rescue over 690,000 people at sea since 2015,” he said.
Further measures were needed, and the Commission is proposing to strengthen the European Border and Coast Guard to better protect Europe‘s external borders with an additional 10,000 European border guards by 2020.
The Commission is also proposing to develop the European Asylum Agency to make sure that Member States get more European support in processing asylum seekers in line with the Geneva Convention.
Mr Juncker said the EU executive was proposing to accelerate the return of irregular migrants, and is “committed to supporting Member States in doing so.”
The key proposals in the State of the Union address covered:
- Security: New rules to get terrorist content off the web; measures for securing free and fair European elections; A reinforced European Public Prosecutor’s Office to fight cross-border terrorism; and initiatives to invest in cybersecurity;
- Migration and border reform: A reinforced European Union Agency for Asylum; A fully equipped European Border and Coast Guard; Stronger EU rules on return; Legal migration;
- Africa and External Investment: A new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs; A more efficient financial architecture for investment outside the EU;
- Common Foreign and Security Policy: Improving the efficiency of decision-making;
- Seasonal clock changes: Commission proposes to put an end to seasonal clock changes;
- : Stronger anti-money laundering supervision for a stable banking and financial sector.