The State of the (European) Union


Berlin/Brussels – The EU must develop the capacity “to shape global affairs” and act as “architect of tomorrow’s world,” declared Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission during his “State of the Union” speech yesterday.

The speech is modeled on the famous annual “State of the Union Address” presented by the US President to a joint session of Congress.  Juncker particularly wants to accelerate the EU’s militarization and the fortification of its external borders. While the German-dominated EU is striving to become a global power, at all costs, tensions within the EU are growing significantly.

The disciplinary action adopted yesterday by the European Parliament against Hungary, which has been undermining democratic rights for years, exacerbates the conflict between the West European centers of power and the EU’s eastern members. The blatant prosperity gap between the EU’s center and the impoverished periphery continues unabated. Serious violations of human rights, particularly against refugees, accompany the internally disunited Union’s striving for a global role.

Capacity to Shape Global Affairs

In his “State of the Union” speech delivered in the European Parliament yesterday, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker emphasized his demand for the EU to play a united, powerful role in global policy. The name “State of the Union,” used since September 2010 for the annual speech in which the Commission President presents his positions, is taken from the famous annual “State of the Union Address” the US President makes to a joint session of Congress.

In his speech, Juncker repeated verbatim some of the formulations used in recent years by German government politicians to promote a more aggressive German global policy on a par with the United States.[1] Thus, Juncker called for “Europe to get off the side-lines of world affairs.” It should no longer be a “mere commentator of international events.”[2] The EU must finally act as a “global player” and take “its destiny into its own hands.”[3] The desired “capacity to play a role, as a Union, in shaping global affairs,” Juncker described with the German term “Weltpolitikfähigkeit.” The EU must become an active player, an “architect of tomorrow’s world.”

Factor 20

A primary focus in Juncker’s plans is the EU’s militarization, which, as he explained in yesterday’s speech, he, of course, does not want to see as a militarization. Junker announced that he would “work day and night over the next months,” to see the European Defence Fund [4] and Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence (PESCO) [5] become fully operational.He is also contemplating “to increase defence spending by a factor of 20.”[6] In addition, the EU Commission is continuing the fortification of the EU’s external borders. For example, the EU’s Frontex border authority is to be massively enhanced with an additional 10,000 European “border guards” by 2020. They are supposed to intensify the warding off of refugees, particularly in the Mediterranean. The President of the Commission also wants to speed up the deportation of undesirable refugees from the union, therefore, the Commission will assist the member countries in these efforts.

Internally Divided

Whereas Juncker, who has received several German Distinguished Service Awards and is usually politically close to German government positions,[7] continues to promote the military development to become a globally operating power, the divisions within the Germany-dominated EU are continuing to widen. Yesterday, the European Parliament initiated a disciplinary action against Hungary for serious violations of rule of law. The sanctions being imposed by the parliament pertain to such serious violations of the rights of free speech and assembly, as well as minority and refugee rights, and the government in Budapest’s undermining judicial independence. A disciplinary action has already been initiated against Poland for undermining judicial independence.

Brussels is therefore disciplining two eastern EU members for undermining basic democratic standards. Tensions between the west and the east of the union threaten to exacerbate additionally because the reception of refugees will be financially rewarded from the future EU budget. This places eastern member countries, having taken in virtually no refugees, at a disadvantage in relationship to the prosperous Germany. More recently, France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian threatened – mainly in reference to Poland and Hungary – that France would no longer support member countries that “disrespect basic EU principles.” “We are not prepared to pay for this Europe,” declared Le Drian at this year’s French conference of ambassadors.[8]

Human Rights

In fact, serious human rights violations are not only becoming more numerous in the east, but in the west of the EU, as well. This is particularly the case of the EU and its member countries’ warding off refugees. Closing Italian ports to all ships who have rescued refugees in distress at sea is in violation of various international agreements.[9] Human rights organizations are up in arms because thousands of refugees have died at the EU’s external borders – more than at all other external borders in the world taken together. During this millennium, at least 36,000 people have drowned or died of thirst attempting to reach the shores of Europe. ( reported.[10]) The deportation procedures of EU countries is increasingly alarming human rights organizations and are in violation of the United Nations’ protection guidelines. For example, Germany continues to deport refugees to Afghanistan. Since December 2016, 366 Afghans have been forcefully repatriated in 16 bulk deportations. The most recent deportation flight took off on Tuesday – in violation of the new guidelines of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which strictly condemns deportations to Afghanistan. According to the UNHCR, everyday life in Kabul, to where refugees are being deported from Germany, is mortally dangerous.

Prosperity and Poverty

While tensions within the EU continue to grow, human rights violations increase and, moreover, the extreme right is gaining prominence throughout the union, ( reported [11]) the economic inequality within the EU remains nearly constant. According to official data from Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency, in 2016, 117.5 million people in the union were threatened with poverty or social exclusion – nearly one-fourth of the EU’s population (23.4 percent).[12] That corresponds closely to the statistics of 2007, when Romania and Bulgaria entered the union. The EU has proven incapable of reducing poverty, primarily at its southern, southeastern, and eastern periphery. In 2016, 27.9 percent were threatened with poverty or social exclusion in Spain, 28.7 percent in Italy, 38.8 percent in Romania, and 40.4 percent in Bulgaria. In Greece, due to the EU’s austerity dictate imposed by Berlin, the corresponding proportion of the population went from 28.1 percent in 2008 to 35.6 percent in 2016. The concentration of resources in West European centers of power – and above all in the German hegemonic pole – are fueling the EU’s ambitions to achieve “global player” status.

[1] State of the Union 2018. The Hour of European Sovereignty. By Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. 12 September 2018.

[2] Die Begrifflichkeit hat der heutige Bundespräsident Frank-Walter Steinmeier in seiner Zeit als Außenminister gerne verwendet. See also Der Weltordnungsrahmen.

[3] “Wir Europäer müssen unser Schicksal in die eigene Hand nehmen” (Angela Merkel, Mai 2017). See also Das Ende einer Ära.

[4] See also Billions for European Wars (II) and Europas strategische Rüstungsautonomie.

[5] See also Launching the Military Union and Coalition of Those Willing to Go to War.

[6] State of the Union 2018. The Hour of European Sovereignty. By Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. 12 September 2018.

[7] See also Particularly Close to Germany.

[8] Michaela Wiegel: Kampf für Europa. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 04.09.2018.

[9] See also Rampage at the Mediterranean.

[10] See also Amoklauf am Mittelmeer (II).

[11] See also Auf dem Weg nach rechts.

[12] 17. Oktober: Internationaler Tag für die Beseitigung der Armut. eurostat Pressemitteilung 155/2017. 16.10.2017. See also “Frieden, Freiheit und Wohlstand”.