Dear Juncker, more integration is not the answer to EU woes. Focusing on cooperation between states might do the trick

Christian May
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European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker wants Britain to start Brexit talks as soon as possible (Source: Getty)

The EU's head honcho, Jean-Claude Juncker, was in the news last week for the televisual highlight of all good Europeans: his annual State of the Union address.

It was a sombre affair, unlikely to cheer up anyone's Wednesday morning. It sounded like a eulogy, and Juncker should at least be commended for his honesty. Addressing members of the European Parliament, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg declared “I'm not going to stand here and say that everything is fine.”

He continued, “Never before have I seen such little common ground between our member states.....never before have I seen so much fragmentation.”

Read more: Germany's central bank chief warns EU against more integration post-Brexit

The latest polling of public sentiment in EU member states will do little to improve Juncker's mood.

According to Pew Research a significant majority of Europeans disapprove of the EU's handling of economic issues and an overwhelming majority are unhappy with the handling of the refugee issue. In Greece, France and Spain a majority of people have an unfavourable view of the EU – as do 48 per cent of Germans.

It is against this backdrop that Juncker reached for the favourite response of a European bureaucrat assessing the project's woes: he called for 'more Europe' and deeper integration.

This reaction has already elicited sighs of exasperation from elsewhere in Europe.

Yesterday, the head of Germany's central bank, Jens Weidmann, told reporters that “the usual instincts of the EU institutions to answer cries with 'more Brussels', more integration, no longer resonates with the public,” adding “integration cannot be an end in itself, it has to make sense.” Germany's central banker can see what Juncker refuses to acknowledge.

Read more: No10 hits out at Juncker's "borders worst invention" claims

A sense that the project no longer makes sense has driven alarming numbers of continental European voters into the arms of hard-left and far-right parties. Juncker is unlikely to win back their support with initiatives such as a pledge to provide “free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020” - a highlight of his speech.

Instead, he needs to understand the limitations of integration and to focus instead of cooperation between sovereign states. A failure to do so will only deepen the division that he so eloquently identified in his State of the Union speech.

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