Europe News

Dream on: Is Europe sleepwalking towards break-up?

European Union does not have enough union: Jean-Claude Juncker

European leader Jean-Claude Juncker's proposed measures to stem the risk of "galloping populism" and stop the 28-country bloc from breaking up have been slammed as inadequate and insufficient.

During his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Juncker, the head of the European Union's executive arm, was, as expected, bullish about the region's future as well as recognizing that there were problems.

Mainly, he deplored the state of disunity in the EU, saying "never before have I seen such little common ground between our member states. So few areas where they agree to work together."

"Never before have I heard so many leaders speak only of their domestic problems, with Europe mentioned only in passing, if at all….Never before have I seen national governments so weakened by the forces of populism and paralysed by the risk of defeat in the next elections….Never before have I seen so much fragmentation, and so little commonality in our Union," Jean-Claude Juncker, State of the Union address.

Juncker also warned that unemployment was still too high and that Europe faced the risk of "galloping populism."

Still, rather than addressing popular dissatisfaction with the EU, as seen in the the Brexit vote, his strategies to address euroskepticism appeared absent. Rather, he proposed more unity and solidarity between the remaining member states.

"Do we give in to a very natural feeling of frustration? Do we allow ourselves to become collectively depressed? Do we want to let our Union unravel before our eyes? Or do we say: Is this not the time to pull ourselves together?... Is this not the time when Europe needs more determined leadership than ever, rather than politicians abandoning ship?," Jean-Claude Juncker, State of the Union address.

Dream on, Juncker?

As for Brexit, Juncker said again that the U.K.'s decision to leave the EU was regrettable but that the EU itself "was not at risk." Not everyone agreed, however, with some analysts and politicians saying that Juncker's speech showed that he was ignoring the risks of other countries following the U.K.'s suit.

One of the key architects of Britain's vote to leave, Nigel Farage, the former head of the UK Independence Party and still, somewhat ironically, a member of the European Parliament, responded to Juncker's speech by saying that "it is clear that there are no lessons that are going to be learnt from Brexit and indeed it was the usual recipe of 'more Europe'."

Even MEPs friendly towards the EU cause noted that the EU needed to be willing to change in a plenary session following the speech.

Analysts watching the proceedings also felt that Juncker was complacent about the risks facing the union and underlying causes of dissatisfaction with the EU.

Robin Bew, chief economist of The Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC on Wednesday that Juncker was mistaken to think that the EU was not at risk as he believed there was "quite a high risk of other countries leaving" the bloc like the U.K.

"I think it's going to be pretty difficult for Greece to stay in over the longer term given what's going on with their finances and although you could very narrowly say Juncker was right- that the U.K. pulling out will not of itself lead to the EU disintegrating but of course, that's not how it works. The U.K. pulling out means that a whole bunch of EU governments are questioning their own relationship with the EU."

"If enough countries did question this I think there is a real risk of countries falling away but we're seeing a large number of countries arguing vociferously that Europe needs to be different to meet their aspirations and that puts the EU under strain," Bew said.

Britain isn't looking for any favours: MEP

Daniel Hannan, a member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Conservative Party and pro-Brexit campaigner, told CNBC that Juncker was missing the point and had not recognized that many EU citizens did not want more integration.

"I heard him saying that we needed 'more Europe, a stronger union' and so on and that's precisely what's caused people to vote against it in the first place. If the EU were just a club or association of states or common market we wouldn't have had this (vote)," he told CNBC on the sidelines of the European Parliament on Wednesday. He added that it was "perfectly possible" that other countries could leave the EU.

Although Britain has yet to officially trigger the exit process, Juncker stressed again that Britain would not be able to "cherry-pick" the parts of EU life that suited it – such as access to the single market without accepting the free movement of people.

Juncker isn't in the driving seat for Brexit negotiations: Analyst

Independent EU Policy analyst Pawel Swidlicki told CNBC that that comment was "nothing new" in Juncker's comments and that, frankly, he had no real say on the post-Brexit relationship between the EU and U.K..

"To be honest, Juncker himself really isn't in the driving seat in these negotiations, it'll be the European Council who will determine the extent of trade-offs (in the post-Brexit deal)."

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