Jean-Claude Juncker outlines plans for a "more united Union" as he says Brexit will not be "the future of Europe"

 
Catherine Neilan
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Brexit is not "the be all and end all" (Source: Getty)

Jean-Claude Juncker has set out his vision for "a more united Union" - including a single President of Europe - insisting Brexit will not set the tone for the bloc.

In his annual State of the Union address, Juncker revealed plans for the presidencies of the European Commission and the European Council to be merged, saying Europe would "function better" if there was just one head.

"More democracy means more efficiency," he said.

Beyond Schengen

And Juncker outlined his plans to expand the union, saying it was "high time to bring Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen Area" while strengthening the Eurozone by making it the single currency of the "EU as a whole".

He said: "If we want to strengthen the protection of our external borders, then we need to open the Schengen area of free movement to Bulgaria and Romania immediately. We should also allow Croatia to become a full Schengen member once it meets all the criteria.

"If we want the euro to unite rather than divide our continent, then it should be more than the currency of a select group of countries. The euro is meant to be the single currency of the European Union as a whole. All but two of our Member States are required and entitled to join the euro once they fulfil all conditions.

"Member states that want to join the euro must be able to do so. This is why I am proposing to create a Euro-accession Instrument, offering technical and even financial assistance."

Read more: What Juncker doesn’t want you to know about the EU

Banking union

Juncker also outlined plans to encourage all member states to join the banking union "as a matter of urgency".

"We need to reduce the remaining risks in the banking systems of some of our member states," he said.

"Banking union can only function if risk-reduction and risk-sharing go hand in hand. As everyone well knows, this can only be achieved if the conditions, as proposed by the Commission in November 2015, are met. To get access to a common deposit insurance scheme you first need to do your homework."

Read more: The EU always reaches for more Europe

Brexit is not the future of Europe

And while he bemoaned Brexit as "a very sad and tragic moment in our history", Juncker stressed that the UK's departure from the European Union was not "the be all and end all".

"It's not the future of Europe," he added.

"My hope is that on 30 March 2019, Europeans will wake up to a Union where we all stand by our values. Where all Member States firmly respect the rule of law. Where being a full member of the euro area, the Banking Union and the Schengen area has become the norm for all EU Member States.

"Where we have shored up the foundations of our economic and monetary union so that we can defend our single currency in good times and bad, without having to call on external help. Where our single market will be fairer towards workers from the East and from the West. Where we managed to agree on a strong pillar of social standards. Where profits will be taxed where they were made. Where terrorists have no loopholes to exploit. Where we have agreed on a proper European Defence Union.

"Where a single president leads the work of the Commission and the European Council, having been elected after a democratic Europe-wide election campaign."

Responding to the plans, MEP Nigel Farage said "thank God we're leaving".

To light applause, he told Juncker that if he proceeded with these plans he would find many more countries following Britain in leaving the EU, acknowledging that if David Cameron had received greater concessions "I admit, the Brexit vote would not have happened".

Not everyone was happy with the proposals though. Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen tweeted: "Let's not mix roles and competences."

Meanwhile, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called Juncker "a romantic", saying people with vision should see an eye doctor.

Read more: The EU always reaches for more Europe