Mr Juncker’s State of the Union address this year was downbeat and worried. He said the Union needs a vision. He offered to supply one drawn up by the Commission. It will only be available next spring. The urgency of his words about the need to pull the union together does not seem matched by the laid back timetable for the basic words. Surely the Union needs a vision now?
Mr Juncker’s speech combined the very general and wide ranging, with the specific and detailed. In his general remarks he complained that there was now a yawning gap between what many voters and member state governments want, and what the EU is serving up. He condemned populist politics, as if the voters expressing a view different to that of the Commission is some crime or ill considered liberty. The Commission still does not get democracy, or prefers administration of the elite by the elite for the elite of big government and big business.
In a way I am glad he did not go on about Brexit, yet a speech on the future of the EU without any substantive comment on the departure of one of its largest members over the issue of too much EU power seems curious. Nor did he sketch out how with the departure of the one major country that always had grave reservations about creating a political union with military capability it might enable the remaining states to make more rapid progress towards their goal.
He did reflect on how his role as President of the EU differs from that of the President of the United States, without pausing to mention the obvious difference that one is elected and has a popular mandate and the other is not. He seems rueful that the EU still does not mirror the powers of the federal government in the USA, yet is aware of the strong forces seeking to divide the 27 members of the present Union.
The extraordinary thing about the speech was the absence of any proposed ways of sending more money from rich to poor, of beefing up spending programmes to foster public sector led growth, or fixing the banks more quickly to foster private sector led increases in employment and output. Nor did he have a way forward over the vexed questions of the borders and migration.
The speech seemed to be delivered into a vacuum. The voters of EU states cannot engage, and the national Parliamentarians cannot engage. The rules of the European parliament seem to conspire against holding Mr Juncker properly and daily to account. Organising a procedure which lets a President’s speech go out unchallenged, may just create a sense that the President’s speech does not matter. It is the endless noise and criticism of Prime Ministers and Finance Ministers in lively democracies that amplifies their message, acts as a check on their actions, and forces them to have answers to main criticisms. Mr Juncker’s speech in contrast seemed to pass most people by.