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Has Jean-Claude Juncker delivered on his promises?

Submitted by on 07 Jan 2019 – 11:17

Jean-Claude Juncker might go down in history as the President of the European Commission who lost Britain, but the true significance of his leadership may well emerge only in retrospect. Deeply regretting Britain’s decision to leave, Juncker had unremittingly tried not to ‘exaggerate’ the situation, welcoming the country as a significant trade partner as well as security partner.

Fast forward five years back. The United Kingdom was the only country to publicly oppose Juncker’s candidacy with a strong personal attack from the former Prime Minister David Cameron.

Nevertheless, Juncker won the backing of 26 out of 28 leaders of the EU, and a majority in the European Parliament approved the former Luxembourg Prime Minister to be president of the European Commission. He was well over the 376 votes minimum that he needed. There were 250 votes against him, 47 abstentions and 10 spoilt ballots.

Juncker was the first president of the European Commission to be selected by the Spitzenkandidaten process — an extra-constitutional system that has reconfigured the European Union’s institutional balance.

At the beginning of his mandate, Team Juncker collectively promised to deliver a more innovative Digital Single Market, a deeper Economic and Monetary Union, a Banking Union, a Capital Markets Union, a fairer Single Market, an Energy Union with a forward-looking climate policy, a comprehensive Migration Agenda, and a Security Union.

Over the past five years, even though Juncker has apparently had more disagreements with his colleagues, he has successfully managed to modernise the political machinery in Brussels, led by many of his result-oriented reforms. Juncker’s overhaul of the Commission, its organisation and working methods, has been radical. Though not quite as radical as the method of his appointment, it has, without doubt, supported him in accomplishing whatever advancement the European Commission has achieved so far.

Getting to the root causes of unemployment, and notably of youth unemployment was a top priority of Juncker when he took over five years back. During his tenure, his team did everything possible to avoid seeing a “lost generation” in Europe.

Never have so many men and women – 239 million people – been in work in Europe. Youth unemployment has hit a historic low. At 14.8%, it is reportedly the lowest since year 2000.

Europe has also reaffirmed its position as a trade power.

Our global trading position is the living proof of the need to share sovereignty. The European Union now has trade agreements with 70 countries around the world, covering 40% of the world’s GDP.

These agreements – so often contested but so unjustly – help us export Europe’s high standards for food safety, workers’ rights, and the environment and consumer rights far beyond our borders.

Juncker displayed an admirable show of political capital in bringing back Greece from the brink of the      abyss that its debt levels would have pushed its economy into.

Thanks to his efforts,Greece has successfully exited its programme and is now back on its own two feet.

While an escalating percentage of unemployed youth, high suicide rates and illegal immigrants are still a matter of much concern for the Greeks, the satisfaction that the debt crisis has been averted is a significant achievement.

Passionate in his defence of the single currency which he described as an “affair of the heart,” Juncker’s plan for the economic development of the EU has exceeded expectations. His Fund for Strategic Investments has triggered 335 billion euro worth of public and private investment.

The Juncker Commission had made reasonable progress on migration — that what is often acknowledged — with five of the seven Commission proposals to reform our Common European Asylum System having been agreed. His efforts to manage migration have borne fruit, with migrant numbers down by 97% in the Eastern Mediterranean and by 80% along the Central Mediterranean route. EU operations have helped rescue over 690,000 people at sea since 2015.

Most recently, Juncker stressed a need for legal routes for migration into Europe.

One cannot miss Juncker’s efforts to improve communications within and outside the European Commission. Juncker and other members of the European Commission have been available to meet the press and to address the other institutions, particular the European Parliament. When the ‘Luxleaks’ scandal broke out, for example, Juncker surprised the European Parliament by appearing personally to defend himself.

An appraisal of Juncker’s performance is not complete without a mention about his radical reforms — including the ambitious new strategy that proposes to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030 and the revolutionary,yet arguably draconian, data protection law which made Europe the world’s data police.

Finally, Juncker has displayed considerable diplomacy in sensitive areas of policy.

While the Brexit vote has turned out to be Juncker’s low-water mark, particularly overshadowing all his achievements in maintaining the economic stability of the eurozone and handling numerous economic crises efficiently, he has pledged to help Britain rejoin the EU after Brexit, which he refers to as a “historical error and tragedy.”

In his own words, he said: “we’re not at war with Great Britain.”

In a candid interview during the Brexit negotiations, the European Commission president reportedly mourned that the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, had blocked him from campaigning during the 2016 referendum.

In another recent meeting with the British media, Juncker went on to claim “the EU could have swung the Brexit referendum in favour of Remain if David Cameron had not prevented it from intervening in the 2016 campaign over membership.”

However, he insisted that the EU would accept the result of the British referendum and “make the best of it.”