The European Commission plans to add 10,000 European border guards to patrol EU coasts and borders by 2020, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced on Wednesday.
The call to bolster the EU’s European Border and Coast Guard came as part of a broader request for member states to end their squabbling and broker a “balanced migration reform” and to open up legal pathways of migrating into the EU.
Mr Juncker said the EU wanted to create an “alliance for sustainable investment and jobs” with Africa that would help create up to 10 million jobs there over the next five years – presumably a means of tackling the so-called “push” factors encouraging migration to Europe.
He, however, insisted the call for additional border guards was not militarising Europe.
The Commission president made his migration-related proposals in an hour-long State of the Union speech that touched upon myriad topics from Brexit to fining internet giants such as Facebook if they failed to take down extremist posts within one hour of them appearing online.
It was Mr Juncker's final State of the Union as Commission top dog, and the veteran politician peppered his speech with fewer concrete policy calls than he had in previous years.
Instead, he used much of his speech to defend the EU's values and role in the world, and even allowed himself an emotional moment as he wrapped up his speech.
"Europe, you are the love of my life," he said.
Among the key issues raised by Mr Juncker:
1. Do not take the EU and peace for granted
“It was a sunny calm optimistic year in 1913,” Mr Juncker mused to the European Parliament plenary, as he recalled the calm even as the clouds of World War I were gathering.
Mr Juncker immediately clarified that he did not mean to imply that Europe was on the brink of catastrophe – only that peace should not be taken for granted.
"Let us show more respect to the European Union,” he urged MEPs. “Let us defend our way of life, our way of being.”
2. Rule of law and respect of the ECJ is non-negotiable
One day after Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban got an MEP earful, Mr Juncker said the Commission was concerned by developments “in some of our member states” and called for Article 7 of the EU Treaty – which suspends a member state’s EU voting privileges – to be applied “wherever the rule of law is threatened”.
Mr Juncker’s mind may have drifted towards Valletta as he noted that too many journalists across the EU were being "intimidated, attacked or even murdered”,
and said freedom of the press was a bulwark of democracy.
He also made it clear that European Court of Justice decisions had to be respected and implemented, saying this was “not an option but an obligation”.
3. Time for the euro to step up its game
Mr Juncker wants the euro to truly become a currency to rival the US dollar, and expressed frustration at the way member states were paying for many key purchases in US dollars, rather than the euro.
An estimated 80 per cent of all energy imported into the EU is paid for in dollars, and as Mr Juncker noted, “it is absurd that European companies buy European planes in dollars instead of euro”.
He, however, said that if the euro were to take on a bigger dimension, the EU would need to strengthen its Economic and Monetary Union first.
4. Again, a push for less unanimity in EU voting
Mr Juncker has long expressed frustration at member states wielding their EU Council veto as a form of political weapon, and on Wednesday he again called for more decisions to be made by qualified majority voting rather than unanimity.
“It is not right that our Union silenced itself at the United Nations Human Rights Council when it came to condemning human rights abuses by China. And this because not all member states could agree,” he said.
“The time has come to make use of this 'lost treasure' of the Lisbon Treaty,” he argued.
Mr Juncker’s vision would see the EU move towards qualified majority voting on matters of human rights and civilian missions – but also “certain matters of tax”.
That suggestion will have gone down like a lead balloon in local halls of government.
5. Getting serious with online manipulation
The European Commission wants Facebook, Google, Twitter and other online platforms to up their anti-hate speech game and take down extremist content within 60 minutes of it going online.
"One hour is the decisive time window the greatest damage takes place," Mr Juncker said on Wednesday.
Providers who repeatedly fail to remove extremist content could face hefty fines of up to four percent of annual global turnover, the Commission said in a statement following Mr Juncker’s speech.
The Commission also wants to avoid a repeat of the Cambridge Analytica scandal by targeting the client base of companies which misuse voter data.
Under the proposed measures, any political groups which make use of any such data will be fined up to five per cent of their annual budget.
Of course, all these plans must be approved by MEPs and national governments before they come into effect.
6. Britain, don’t take it personally
Mr Juncker again expressed regret about the UK’s decision to leave the EU and said that the decision would have clear repercussions.
“Someone who leaves the union cannot be in the same privileged position as a member state,” he told London. “If you leave the Union, you are of course no longer part of our single market, and certainly not only in the parts of it you choose."
Mr Juncker, however, tempered that uncompromising stance with an assurance that this break-up would not end in tears.
“The UK will never be an ordinary third country for us,” he said. “The UK will always be a very close neighbour and partner."
Click here to watch Mr Juncker deliver his speech. The event begins at 9am.
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