Richard North, 14/09/2017  
 


One of the really good things about Brexit is that Juncker's state of the union speech yesterday was the last but one that we'll have to pay any attention to. We have the 2018 version to come but, before we get to the speech of the following year, we'll be out.

We know that is the case because President Juncker told us so. "On 29 March 2019", he said, "the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. This will be a very sad and tragic moment. We will always regret it. But we have to respect the will of the British people".

Despite the tone of his speech which, if anything, reaffirmed my view that getting out was the right thing to do, Juncker also thinks that we will regret leaving.

Nevertheless, there is an outside chance that, by the time we reach that point, our own government will have made such a mess of the Brexit process that it will have gone back to the European Council to plead for extra time. There is just a possibility, therefore, that we won't have left the EU on the appointed say.

This, though, looks increasingly unlikely. The current mood music suggests that the "colleagues" will be pleased to see us go. There will be no appetite for an extension which keeps us in the European Union past 29 March 2019, especially as a few weeks after our projected leaving date there are the European Parliament elections. The last thing the "colleagues" want is the complication of a new batch of UK MEPs.

We will have our own problems to deal with by then and if Mrs May has really taken us out of the EEA/Single Market, they are going to be so serious that we will be totally absorbed in them. We won't have the time or inclination to take much interest in what is going on in the European Union. It us with more or less out of academic interest, therefore, that we note that Juncker aims to set up what some mean-minded spirits might call a celebratory meeting – he calls it a Special Summit – on the first full day of Brexit, the 30 March 2019.

This, he wants in "the beautiful ancient city of Sibiu", or Hermannstadt as Juncker knows it. It should, he says, "be the moment we come together to take the decisions needed for a more united, stronger and democratic Europe".

That is something a certainly won't miss – the continuing assertion that "Europe" is to be made more "democratic". If only these people could be honest with themselves, and recognise that the structure of the European Union was deliberately designed to be "democracy resistant", keeping elected politicians out of the loop so that the damage the cause can be contained.

Anyhow, as we hand control (of a sort) back to our own elected politicians - and discover that they have made such a mess of Brexit that nothing in our trade system works any more - at least we will have the small comfort of knowing that the "colleagues" are all in one place, when we need to get in touch with them.

One wonders, though, whether Juncker is putting them just about as far away as possible from us, just to make it more difficult for us to complain to them about their part in the mess we will be experiencing. More likely, it's just a coincidence as Romania will be the country holding the EU's infamous rotating presidency in the first half of 2019. That's another thing we want to worry about.

But the main thing we won't have to worry about is the predictable calls for more integration and reducing the powers of Member States. When it comes to "important single market questions", for instance, Juncker wants decisions in the Council to be taken more often and more easily by qualified majority – with the equal involvement of the European Parliament.

For that, the man says, no treaty change will be needed. Courtesy of the Lisbon Treaty, there are the so-called "passerelle clauses" which permit moves from unanimity to qualified majority voting in certain areas – if all Heads of State or Government agree to do so.

Juncker is also "strongly in favour" of moving to qualified majority voting for decisions on the common consolidated corporate tax base, on VAT, on fair taxes for the digital industry and on the financial transaction tax. Europe has to be able to act quicker and more decisively.

Another thing he wants is "a stronger Economic and Monetary Union". The euro area, he says, is more resilient now than in years past and we now have the European Stabilisation Mechanism (ESM). He believes the ESM should now progressively graduate into a European Monetary Fund and be firmly anchored in "our Union". The Commission, he says, "will make concrete proposals for this in December".

Very much in new treaty territory, we are then told of the need for a European Minister of Economy and Finance. This will be a European Minister who "promotes and supports structural reforms in our Member States" and will "build on the work the Commission has been doing since 2015" with its Structural Reform Support Service. He or she should also preside the Eurogroup.

Juncker wants being a full member of the euro area, the Banking Union and the Schengen area to become "the norm for all EU Member States". And his new treaty, in time, will shore 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".

Other thing over which he enthuses is an EU "stronger in fighting terrorism", to which effect he's calling for a European intelligence unit that ensures data concerning terrorists and foreign fighters are automatically shared among intelligence services and with the police. And he sees a strong case for tasking the new European Public Prosecutor with prosecuting cross-border terrorist crimes.

There is a nice little bombshell for us as well. "More democracy means more efficiency", Juncker says , clearly having no experience of actual democracy – one of the least efficient forms of government ever invented.

Europe, he says, would function better if we were to merge the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council. It would be "easier to understand if one captain was steering the ship" and a single President would "better reflect the true nature of our European Union as both a Union of States and a Union of citizens".

If we were still committed to membership of the EU, all this would be going down like a bowl of cold sick – yet another Commission attempt to take greater control and advance the process of integration, We would be seeing eruptions from all quarters and ritual assurances from government that there were "red lines" that would never to be crossed. At least we are spared this.

But on Brexit day, Mr Juncker wants Europeans to "wake up to a Union where we all stand by our values". And eventually, when the UK is no longer in the way and the "colleagues" have their new treaty, it will be a Europe …
… 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.
Europe, he says, was not made to stand still. It must never do so. Helmut Kohl and Jacques Delors had taught him that Europe only moves forward when it is bold. The single market, Schengen and the single currency were all written off as pipe dreams before they happened. And yet these three ambitious projects are now a reality.

On Brexit day, though, we will have no need to worry about such things. In fact, we'll have other preoccupations, such as watching over-excited television reporters squeaking with surprise at the growing queues of trucks (and private vehicles) outside Dover. Thus, Junker can have his little dreams. We will have a nightmare to attend to.






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