There is something rotten in the State of the European Union

We Brits often claim that self-deprecating humour is something of a national trait, not really understood by foreigners. But on Wednesday, the EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, indulged in a witty little crack himself. He was about halfway through a rather turgid “State of the European Union” speech when there was a loud interruption from the floor. He smiled and reached out for the glass of water at his elbow.
“At least this gives me a chance for a drink,” he said. Now our friend Juncker is a notorious tippler, so a ripple of laughter flickered around the chamber. Juncker looked up in pained surprise and bewilderment, eliciting a much louder laugh. It was nicely timed and nicely done.
Unfortunately, it came amid a welter of Euro-waffle, bland statements of the obvious and calls for the unacceptable that has become the hallmark of Mr Juncker’s speeches here. But let me extract a few nuggets of interest from the hour-long speech for you. It will save you from having to sit through the entire thing as we MEPs had to do.
Mr Juncker mentioned his concern at the high levels of youth unemployment in some EU countries. He is right to do so. Figures of 39% for youth unemployment as in Greece are simply unacceptable – while Spain at 33% and Italy at 30% are not far behind.
But Mr Juncker’s concern was not followed by any analysis of the causes nor the cures for such high figures. Hardly surprising really, since a key driver of youth unemployment in these countries is their adoption of the euro currency. Criticism of the euro is, of course, frowned upon here.
But he did talk about the euro – and what an unqualified success it has been. A marvellous thing, to listen to Juncker. So marvellous, in fact, that he wants it to march from strength to strength. The euro is destined to become the key currency used in international markets and trades. Apparently.
As a first step to this currency nirvana, he urged European companies to insist on paying their international bills in euros and only in euros. He singled out the aircraft industry for particular attention. No more dollars, only euros.
We can only wonder how that is going to go down with companies such as Boeing. Not only is that a US company, but the aircraft industry has been priced in dollars for decades. If Juncker is serious, then he is setting himself up for a real struggle with the global aircraft industry, the global financial markets and the US Treasury.
But then Juncker is nothing if not ambitious. The EU needs a coherent, dynamic and agile foreign policy, he told us. This being the European Commission talking to the European Parliament, there is only one conceivable way to achieve this: to concentrate even more power in the hands of the EU Commission. Juncker suggested abolishing the veto that each member state currently has on foreign policy. Instead the decisions should be taken by qualified majority voting.
Juncker has earlier made clear his ambitions for the EU to have armed forces of its own. If his new plan is to go through, the EU could go to war not for the essential interests of France or to protect Estonia, but on the casting vote of Luxembourg.
As Juncker rambled his way towards the inevitable standing ovation from the true believers in the European Project who dominate this Parliament, I was even more glad than I already was that Britain has had the good sense to leave this organisation.


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