In his annual state of the union address at the European Parliament in Brussels, Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled plans to increase passport-free movement around the EU, expand use of the euro and boost the number of member states.
He also said that Britain will eventually come to regret its decision to leave the European Union.
In an hour-long speech, Mr Juncker said the ‘wind is back in Europe’s sails’.
Mr Juncker said he wanted use of the euro, membership of the Schengen agreement, which abolishes internal borders, and the banking union set up after the eurozone crisis to become standard.
He also announces plans for a single powerful president, a finance minister with authority to intervene in nation states and ‘a stronger European army in a militarised EU with a stronger and perhaps more aggressive foreign policy’.
He said it was time to bring Romania and Bulgaria into the passport-free travel area and Croatia should follow soon.
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Mr Juncker said the euro is destined to become the common currency of the whole of the European Union.
More countries will become EU members but Turkey will not become a member for the ‘foreseeable future’, he said.
‘My hope is that on March 30, 2019, Europeans will wake up in a union where they know that we are defending their values, where all member states vigorously respect the rule of law, where being a full member of the eurozone, banking union and the Schengen area have become a standard for every member state of the European Union,’ he said.
The EU is to undergo a major overhaul, the president of the European Commission has announced.
Mr Juncker said the EU is open for trade and since last year ‘partners all over the world are knocking at our door in order to sign trade agreements with us’.
He called for more action to end the ‘scandalous’ refugee crisis in Europe and said not all member states were pulling their weight to deal with the problem.
Mr Juncker also set out proposals to merge his role with the presidency of the European Council, currently held by Donald Tusk, saying it would make EU institutions clearer and more efficient.
Brussels must concentrate on major issues and not ‘annoy’ people with ‘nit-picking and nitty gritty’, he said.
‘We need to act on the big things and keep away from the small things, which can be dealt with by the member states,’ he said.
He said action must be taken to protect consumers in central and eastern Europe who, despite EU rules, were being sold poorer quality products.
‘A Slovak deserves to have as much fish in fish fingers as anyone else,’ he said.
Addressing the thorny issue of Brexit, Mr Juncker said: ‘This will be a very sad and tragic moment in our history. We will always regret this, and I think that you will regret it as well, soon.
‘Nonetheless we have to respect the will of the British people. But we are going to make progress. We will move on because Brexit isn’t everything, it’s not the future of everything, it’s not the be all and end all.’
Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage described Mr Juncker’s address as ‘the most open, honest and truly worrying’ speech he had heard in his time as an MEP.
Addressing the parliament in response to Mr Juncker’s speech, Mr Farage added: ‘All I can say is, Thank God we’re leaving.’
BREAKDOWN OF MR JUNCKER’S PROPOSALS:
EURO ZONE INTEGRATION
A vice president of the European Commission to chair the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers and play the role of European Finance and Economy Minister, promoting reforms in states and deploying EU financial instruments to help states in recession or crisis.
TURKEY AND THE BALKANS
Western Balkan states should have a realistic chance of joining the EU after 2019 but Turkey’s abuse of fundamental rights rules out it joining in the foreseeable future.
Britain’s departure is ‘tragic’ and the British too will come to regret it but it should not prevent the rest of the Union forging ahead with integration in an ambitious way, in the knowledge that favourable conditions will not last for long.
The EU is to launch new, transparent free trade talks with Australia and New Zealand and aim to conclude those as well as ongoing negotiations with Japan, Mexico and South American nations.
A new European Cybersecurity Agency to be set up. Mr Juncker also wants a new European intelligence unit to coordinate sharing of information on suspected militants and to give the new European Public Prosecutor powers to investigate terrorism offences. A European Defence Union, supported by NATO, to be ready by 2025.
Romania and Bulgaria should be brought into the Schengen passport-free zone without delay and Croatia as soon as possible — part of a strategy to push all EU member states into all the bloc’s structures, including the euro and banking union.