The election of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission was an extraordinarily political one for communitarian standards. As those who recall
In order to bring some content to his candidacy before the Parliament, Mr Juncker issued a programme not underwhelmingly titled “A New Start for Europe: My Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change.” The key values of the presidency seemed clear. From a more detailed perspective, the former Luxembourgish Prime Minister promised things such as the presently famous €300 billion for the “real economy”, a connected digital market, “initiatives to deepen our Economic and Monetary Union during the first year” or “a new European policy on legal migration.”
Mr. Juncker’s Promises: Seven Months Later
Seven months later, after a LuxLeaks scandal, a British tentative to override free movement of workers and a Pandora’s box-style Greek general election, it seems interesting to look into the present advancement of his promises. Has the late-night dealmaker been sleeping much?
Much has been said about the €300 billion investment plan. Out of a total investment amounting to a third of the Union’s budget for the 2014-2020 period (the Multiannual Financial Framework) and sixtieth of its GDP, only €16 billion will effectively come out of the EU’s pocket. The Economist informs us that the rest is expected to come from fiscal sorcery using public guarantees to leverage €284 billion in private capital. It is hence almost reassuring to think that even if the Commission miraculously delivered its investment plan, it still would need to repeat the operation several times to inject the necessary liquidity in our deflationary European economy. The plan is deficient even if an optimistic approach towards its eventual implementation is adopted.
With regards to the deepening of our Monetary Union, one is more likely to hear declarations by former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan describing Greece as inevitably out of the euro in the immediate future, than encouraging comments on the solid ties being forged between Eurozone partners. Jean-Claude Juncker ’s statement that he would go as far as kickstarting the much needed Eurozone “targeted fiscal capacity” during his first year in office is solid evidence of the isolation of Brussels from the rest of Europe: no one has ever heard the President mention a fiscal union project ever again. Mr Juncker still benefits from seven months ahead of him to work on his monetary promises. We can only hope that he will use the agitation generated after Alexis Tsipras’ election to introduce integrative solutions. The majority of Member States may manifest their interest in a middle ground between Berlin and Athens.
The Future of Europe and Juncker’s Presidency
Assessment of other points made during Juncker ’s candidacy are just as discouraging. There are nonetheless reasons to believe in better surprises awaiting further into the presidency. The much feared Eurobarometer, Eurostat’s biannual EU opinion rating, registered the biggest increase in approval since 2006, placing it at 39% in December 2014. EU disapproval fell proportionally to 22%. Crucially, those communicating a positive image of the Union overcame the share of population that simply did not care, the most numerous group since 2010.
All in all, there are reasons to believe that this is the first incarnation of a new way of doing European politics based upon the Treaty of Lisbon. It is arguably accepted throughout the Eurozone that more integration is needed to overcome the crisis, no matter how different the accounts of what that new formulation shall look like may be. Opposition to David Cameron’s free movement of workers removal plans was unanimous. The parties that currently rise the most are those that propose a radically different vision of Europe. The most virulent eurosceptics have now reached their ceilings. For as complex as the situation might seem -and indeed it is-, it appears as if the election of this Parliament and Commission supposed a transition in the way people understand Europe as theirs. Europeans want to see a solid project and it might very well be this Commission’s ambition to give it to them.