The European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker called EU governments on Wednesday to come together taking advantage of the stronger European economy and Brexit.

In his annual state of the union address, he said that the “wind is back in Europe’s sails,” and that “Now we have a window of opportunity, but it will not stay open for ever. Let us make the most of the momentum, catch the wind in our sails.”

He reiterated his love for Europe and what has been achieved through love and pain: “I have sat on many different sides of the table: as a Minister, as Prime Minister, as President of the Eurogroup, and now as President of the Commission. I was there in Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon as our Union evolved and enlarged. I have always fought for Europe. At times I have suffered with and because of Europe and even despaired for it. Through thick and thin, I have never lost my love of Europe. But there is rarely love without pain. Love for Europe because Europe and the European Union have achieved something unique in this fraying world: peace within and outside of Europe. Prosperity for many if not yet for all.” 

For him, Europe has always stood for values, freedom, equality and law: “For me, Europe is more than just a single market. More than money, more than the euro. It was always about values.” 

In relation to Brexit, Juncker retained his positivity urging the other European member states to move on because “Brexit isn’t everything.” He recognised that “we will always regret this,” and, addressing Nigel Farage, the enfant terrible of Brexit, he said, “I think you will regret it soon, too.” Farage, who as always, made sure to interrupt Juncker, got, as usual, the expected reply. 

Anecdote: In a past irreverent and humorous encounter, during which Farage and Juncker were on the same panel after Farage invited him to talk to the Eurosceptic group Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD, the right-wing provocateur said to Juncker: “A lot of things have been written and said about you, we’re told you like a drink, and you’re a smoker, and I even read that you drink endless cups of black coffee—we couldn’t care less. We’re not interested.” Juncker was quick to reply: “Do you have a cigarette please?” From such tragicomic episodes, it is easy to surmise that the two of them rather enjoy hating each other. 

The Speech: Main points

The annual speech to the European parliament in Strasbourg, focussed on assisting more EU countries to join the Eurozone and proposing institutional changes.

Juncker began by stressing that Europe “was battered and bruised” last year, but over the past twelve months, the European parliament has managed to bring his agenda of a Europe that “protects, empowers, and defends,” to life. 

Economy: Juncker said that, “the economic outlook swung in our favour,” and the EU is enjoying the fifth year of economic recovery, outstripping even the US the last two years in terms of economic growth. Unemployment was at a nine-year low, with 8 million jobs being created and 235 million people at work. After ten years, Europe’s economy “is finally bouncing back,” and “with it, our confidence.” Since, EU27 leaders, the Parliament and the Commission “are putting Europe back in our Union, “the wind is back in Europe’s sails.” Juncker urged leaders that “Now is the time to build a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe for 2025.”

Trade: “Europe is open for business.” Juncker said that there must be “reciprocity” and that “we have to get what we give,” because trade isn’t an abstraction, but a real necessity that creates jobs and opportunities for European businesses. He proposed open trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and talked about a trade agreement the European Parliament secured with Canada, a political agreement with Japan on a new economic partnership and a possible one by the end of the year with Mexico and South American countries. As he put it: “over the last year, partners across the globe are lining up at our door to conclude trade agreements with us.”

“Making our planet great again.” Climate change: Juncker highlighted that he wants Europe to be the leader in fighting against climate change, especially, he added with irony, now, after “the collapse of ambition in the United States, Europe will ensure we make our planet great again. It is the shared heritage of all of humanity.”

A more united union: This means that the union should be more democratic and inclusive, by avoiding social fragmentation, working together for a European Social Standards Union to define what is socially fair, and connected through a single currency.

Turkey: As Juncker said, Turkey is increasingly moving further and further away from the European Union due to its undemocratic politics: “Journalists belong in newsrooms not in prisons. They belong where freedom of expression reigns. The call I make to those in power in Turkey is this: Let our journalists go. And not just them either. Stop insulting our Member States by comparing their leaders to fascists and Nazis. Europe is a continent of mature democracies. Insults create roadblocks. Sometimes I get the feeling Turkey is intentionally placing these roadblocks so that it can blame Europe for any breakdown in accession talks.”

Brexit: delegated to a few sentences towards the end of his speech, and described as a tragic moment that we will always regret, Brexit functioned as a lesson and for reminding Europeans to remain strong and move forward.

If the 29 March 2019 will inflict a wound to the heart of the European project, then the 30 March, a Special Summit in Romania, in the beautiful ancient city of Sibiu, will mark a new beginning where the EU27 will come together to make decisions for a united, stronger and democratic Europe. Juncker finished by urging European leaders “to sail away from the harbour” and “catch the trade winds in our sails.”