Sunday, 20 September 2015

Response to Junckers' State of the European Union #SOTEU

First, we take a look at the case of the European Commission, as presented in the available materials. Second, we explore the response to the State of the European Union (SOTEU) address from three European think tanks.

State of the European Union debate

The case of president Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Commission is set out in the ”full picture” booklet, now available in English and French:

State of the Union 2015 – by Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission 9 September 2015 [9MB]

État de l'Union 2015 – Discours de Jean-Claude Juncker, président de la Commission européenne devant le Parlement européen le 9 septembre 2015

The broadly favourable response from the political groups and some individual MEPs is included in the multilingual verbatim record of the plenary debate.

Salvador Llaudes

In the post Juncker, el #SOTEU yun año de mandato, on the Blog Elcano, Salvador Llaudes described the commencement of the political and dynamic European Commission under the Spitzenkandidat Jean-Claude Juncker, including his initiatives to solve the Greek crisis and the first and the second refugee crisis. Public opinion is showing some signs of recognition of Junckers' rejection of past 'path dependency' and 'business as usual'.

The EU member states are still divided in this respect, which means that Juncker has to keep working to arrive at a necessary consensus.

Valentin Kreilinger

Valentin Kreilinger, of the Jacques Delors Institut Berlin, began his blog post #SOTEU:Der Kommissionspräsident alsFeuerwhrmann und Architekt by recalling the purpose of the State of the (European) Union address (here the English version, in Annex IV of the inter-institutional agreement):

5. Each year in the first part-session of September, a State of the Union debate will be held in which the President of the Commission shall deliver an address, taking stock of the current year and looking ahead to priorities for the following years. To that end, the President of the Commission will in parallel set out in writing to Parliament the main elements guiding the preparation of the Commission Work Programme for the following year.

The refugee crisis dominated Junckers' address, but he acts as a ”fireman” and an ”architect” to strengthen the ”Community method” regarding the other priorities as well. His architectural aspirations can be seen clearly in the deepening of the economic and monetary union (EMU), building on the five presidents' report.

Right after the SOTEU debate Frans Timmermans and Dimitris Avramopoulos presented the package of proposals to manage the refugee crisis, including resettlement of 120,000 asylum seekers and a permanent relocation system.

Josef Janning

In a Note from Berlin, Josef Janning of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) saw Junckers' address as a missed opportunity, because it failed to confront the slow poison of intergovernmentalism killing the European Union: More Union for the EU.

European media watch political actors struggling with major challenges to the union such as the sovereign debt crisis, the war in Ukraine, and the refugee crisis (each of them clear cases for a common response), and conclude that Europe is failing.

The EU’s underperformance stems from three trends, which seem to reinforce each other: a hybrid deepening, a utilitarian widening, and a fragmentation of the political centre (with description and reasoning about each trend in the blog post).

The refugee crisis is a case in point of the diverging union and the lack of consensus among member states.


The intergovernmental drift of the European Union towards a confederation of short-sighted and disparate member states is evident, with consequent lack of effective solutions.

For a final verdict the jury can only follow the proceedings until the five years of the European Commission are up. In the interim both Llaudes and Kreilinger attest to Junckers' leadership role.

Janning called Junckers' address a missed opportunity, but analysed the institutional failings of the European Union, viz. the lack of EU powers and the paucity of political will among the member states to act decisively on the ”big issues”.

My question is: What more could the Commission president have done, given the constraints? What can Juncker do in the future?

Like Chernyshevsky and Lenin we can ask, although this time with regard to the European Union: What Is to Be Done?

Ralf Grahn