This time last year, EU head honcho Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his 2016 State of the Union address.
It was a sombre affair. Addressing members of the European Parliament he declared” “Never before have I seen such little common ground between our members states... never before have I seen so much fragmentation.”
He was not just referring to Brexit, though it had of course sent shockwaves across the continent. He spoke at a time when a significant majority of Europeans disproved of the EU’s handling of economic issues and the migrant crisis. The latest research shows that most Europeans still hold these frustrations, even if overall favourability towards the EU has increased among member states over the last 12 months.
Today, as Juncker delivers his annual speech, people are entitled to ask what the EU has done to rectify the project’s deficiencies since its president delivered such an honest assessment one year ago. The answer, as always, is “more Europe”. Indeed, leaked minutes of a meeting between national diplomats and Juncker’s abrasive chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, suggest that the Commission will propose “more Schengen... more banking union... more Eurozone... and a prospect for enlargement.”
At the same time, the minutes (obtained by think-tank Open Europe) suggest there will be renewed commitment to “democracy, participation and transparency”. If the EU’s track record is anything to go by, these two statements will likely lead to a glaring paradox.
The only way to increase the democratic legitimacy of the EU is to return powers to member states. And yet Europe’s new golden boy, President Macron, is a leading advocate of introducing a Eurozone finance minister and centralised budget.
He is, however, at odds with Angela Merkel who believes the problems of monetary union stem from too much centralisation. Juncker, Macron and Merkel (assuming the latter is re-elected) will grapple with this central question in the months and years ahead. If the true federalists win out, future State of the Union addresses may be even more depressing than last year’s.