The State of the Union speech, foreseen in the Framework Agreement which governs relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission, is given annually by the President of the European Commission.
Its dual aim is to reflect on recent progress in the EU and look ahead to priorities for upcoming years. Moreover, it is the first step in the interinstitutional process resulting in a new Commission Work Programme for the year ahead.
On 9th September, the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivered his first State of the Union speech to the European Parliament. In spite of the traditional focus on work programmes and legislative agendas, Juncker instead chose to concentrate on the ongoing refugee crisis facing the EU.
“We Europeans should remember well that Europe is a continent where nearly everyone has at one time been a refugee. Our common history is marked by millions of Europeans fleeing from religious or political persecution, from war, dictatorship, or oppression.”
Describing Europe as a “beacon of hope” and a “haven of stability,” Juncker declared that there is now no alternative but to manage the refugee crisis. Recalling the many legislative measures which together make up the Common European Asylum System, he nevertheless drew attention to the widespread lack of compliance across Member States.
Moreover, he highlighted the fact that while the crisis has so far been felt most in Greece, Italy and Hungary, the challenge must be faced with a united Europe.
Stressing the urgency of acting before winter, Juncker called on Member States to adopt the Commission’s proposals on the emergency relocation of 160,000 refugees at the Extraordinary Council of Interior Ministers to take place on 14th September.
Nevertheless, admitting that relocation alone is not a sufficient solution, Juncker mentioned various complementary measures to support the EU’s approach to the crisis; a common EU list of safe countries of origin to allow Member States to fast track asylum procedures, strengthening Frontex to ensure a fully operational European border and coast guard system and examining the option of opening legal channels for migration were all put forward as possible supporting solutions.
The Commission will adopt a legal migration package in early 2016.
While Juncker was explicit in his belief that Europe must be stronger when it comes to foreign policy, it remains to be seen just how strong the upcoming package may be.