European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said that the “wind is back in Europe’s sails” on Wednesday.
“I have been through thick and thin with the European Union and never have I lost my love for the European Union. As we all know there is no love without disappointment, or very rarely,” he declared.
Speaking to the European Parliament in Strasbourg in his annual State of the Union address, Juncker identified trade policy, security, and migration among a list of priorities ahead of the 2019 European elections.
However, he called on the union to seize a 12- to 18-month “window of opportunity” to push ahead with important policy initiatives.
What changes does Juncker want to introduce?
Juncker wants to see the start of EU free-trade talks with Australia and New Zealand, the screening of foreign investments across Europe, a deepening of euro-area integration and an expansion of the common euro currency.
Juncker made reference to Romania and Bulgaria, encouraging the two countries to join Europe’s borderless Schengen area but ruled out Turkey’s EU membership for the foreseeable future.
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He also insisted on the need to combine the EU’s two most senior posts: the presidency of the European Commission and the presidency of the European Council because Europe “needs one captain at the helm.”
Meanwhile, he rejected French president Emmanuel Macron’s plans to set up a separate euro-area budget and urged the EU to do away with national vetoes in the areas of foreign policy and taxation by March 2019, when the UK leaves the bloc.
“Europe can deliver for its citizens when and where it matters,” Juncker said. “We’ve been slowly but surely gathering momentum.”
“Brexit,” he added, was “a tragic moment”, but “not the be all and end all.”
Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, the largest group in the European Parliament warned that British prime minister Theresa May’s current approach to Brexit “will not fly.”
“It seems to be that Great Britain is still thinking that it can follow the full cherry-picking approach,” Weber told reporters in Strasbourg on Wednesday.