Jean-Claude Juncker delivered a speech to the European Parliament this morning. Its content was, from the British government’s perspective, provocative. Juncker had one watchword: integration: and a clear idea of how to achieve it. He expressed belief in:
- Tax harmonisation (especially on corporate tax rates)
- Integration of capital markets
- Energy integration and the diversification of energy supply
- 300bn euros extra spending and a commitment to the ‘social market’
- A financial transaction tax
- No new member states for 5 years (how about that, Mr Salmond?)
- The euro as a unifying force across Europe
- Freedom of movement
In some respects it was a slightly strange speech for Juncker, a man of the centre-right, to have given. A spending stimulus, financial transaction tax: these are agents of social democracy. Indeed, Juncker said that he was a ‘great fan’ of the social market economy, and added that Europe needed to rehabilitate communitarianism. It was as if his words had been ghosted by the spirit of Jacques Delors.
This was, then, a speech crafted to build alliances with the centre-left and ‘new Europe’, which believe spending and integration to be vital to their interests. Eurosceptics were suitably angered — Ukip MEPs heckled Juncker throughout, while Daniel Hannan poured scorn on Juncker’s conception of ‘reform’, adding that David Cameron was wholly right to oppose his candidacy.
But, there were sections of the speech which might have appealed to the more hawkish nations of northern Europe. The principle of subsidiarity was a frequent presence. Juncker said, in terms, that the EU must not waste itself on minutiae and must concentrate instead on big issues. He praised the minimum wage, but added that it was for member states to determine; ergo, there would be no pan-European minimum wage. There would, however, be an assault on European red tape, especially that which constrains SMEs.