EU chief appeals for more unity in Europe rife with division

Published 7:37 am Wednesday, September 14, 2016

BRUSSELS — With Britain walking away and some eastern nations routinely showing open hostility, the European Union’s chief painted a bleak picture Wednesday of the bloc and implored the 27 remaining nations to stop bickering at a time when ever more people question its relevance.

While the U.S. president almost invariably lauds a strong union in his State of the Union address, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s annual speech to the European Parliament was rife with awkward truths.

“We should admit we have many unresolved problems,” he said, and asked an existential question about the future, if any, for the EU — “will Europe disappear from the international scene?”

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After a half-century of unremitting growth, the EU has stalled, as was highlighted by June’s shock referendum result in Britain, when it became the first member state to ever decide to leave the constantly expanding bloc.

“The facts are plain: The world is getting bigger. And we are getting smaller,” Juncker said, adding that only standing together, however difficult that is, can fix the problem.

Juncker wants to reinvigorate the union from within, despite the chorus of voices criticizing the EU’s centralized decision-making and institutions.

He specifically said the EU must do more in the defense field, and no longer be overly dependent on the U.S. He said it should start with the creation of an EU military headquarters and work toward a common military force.

Britain has always staunchly defended NATO as the main military alliance and routinely blocked attempts to bolster EU defense.

Juncker said greater defense cooperation also makes economic sense for the bloc’s member states, since it would reduce wasteful duplication of effort by individual nations, and he called for a specific defense fund before the end of the year to boost common research projects.

Nigel Farage — a leader of the campaign for the U.K. to leave — said the speech was more of the bad old EU, of increased power-grabbing.

“It is clear that no lessons are going to be learned from Brexit,” he said. “Indeed (Juncker’s speech) was the usual recipe — more Europe, in this particular case, more military Europe.”