On Wednesday 13 September Jean-Claude Juncker gave his annual state of the union speech to the European Parliament. We offer a critical review of the speech in this post and a linked paper.
The English text of the address can be downloaded from here:
We have read the speech carefully and find a lot to dislike in it, and not much that we can regard as honest. We’ve selected some quotations and added comments in our paper linked here, which will open in a new tab.
In this post we consider three characteristics of the EU: it’s central ambition (what we call elsewhere the ideology underpinning the project); the determined efforts of its leading figures to dissemble and lie to hide this central ambition; and the deep conviction that permeates everything it does that the peoples of Europe and their elected governments are of no account. These three themes are evident throughout the President’s speech and clearly reflect the continuing progress of the EU project itself.
Overall, as we might expect from the setting and the presence of the media, the speech was mainly a public relations exercise; he brags about some EU achievements, he sprays propaganda and he offers some nuggets of his thinking about the future of the Union. It’s a feature of the EU and its leaders that they cannot persuade us of its virtues honestly, because there are so few – and many of them are not the EU’s, though it claims the credit. Notable among these ‘alternative facts’ is the oft-repeated claim that the EU (and its predecessors) have brought peace to a fractious Europe. It gets away with this claim, which could more fairly be made on behalf of NATO, by the sheer number of times he, and others, repeat it.
Riding on the back of general improvements to the world’s economy, J-C claims that growth in the European Union has outstripped that in the USA over the last two years. He acknowledges that the economic outlook has swung in favour of the EU and that the European Commission cannot take the credit for this alone (he has to add “alone” to maintain the mood). But then he gets uncharacteristically defensive, saying that his Commission would surely have taken the blame if more jobs had been lost than gained. Such defensiveness is the shadow-image of the boosterism that is the largest part of his speech. He follows this short sulk with several “we can take the credit for…”, with which he aims to soften up his audience – i.e. the rest of us, not just the MEPs who were present. He completes his introduction on full song, with “the wind is back in Europe’s sails.”
This metaphor both signals and helps to disguise the main ambition, the ideology of central control: ‘We’re getting there but we’ll pretend that we’re getting somewhere else, so that you people will not protest too loudly.’ Although ‘you people’ don’t count for much, J-C and his colleagues are nervous – with some reason – about stirring up too much antagonism, which would (and has on occasion) held up progress towards ‘inevitable’ victory, the achievement of supra-national governance.
Commentators have largely picked out the positive nuggets in the speech and either commented on them or quoted the comments of others. We have found little analysis of the speech as a whole and its relation to the history of the EU. We are surprised by how many people appear to interpret the speech positively, for which they have to swallow without thinking much that should alert them to what is evident after a quick look behind the sales pitch.
Most evident to us is the underlying sense of superiority that enables, and encourages, him and his peers to lie to us (‘dissemble’ is too mild). We pick out one example, among many available, to illustrate the deceit. “Europe has always been an attractive place to do business.” This sort of remark slips so smoothly past the critical faculties of so many of us that we don’t think about it but just swallow it as we might a fizzy drink. We will unpack it a little.
He wants us to think of “Europe” but an honest claim would open with ‘the EU’, which is all that he can claim to speak for. Then “always” is simply untrue; the EU is bedevilled with thousands of regulations that constrict and curtail business. But if he were to drop ‘always’ what is left would be ‘has been’, which clearly won’t do a good PR job. With “attractive” he begs the question, wanting us to accept that anyone who finds the EU unattractive as a place to do business should not be in business. The whole is pure propaganda, without a trace of honest self-reflection. Propaganda is usually required to promote something that has no substance or value but in this case it is needed to disguise the true substance, and lack of achievement, of the European Union.
In this overview post, and its more detailed linked paper, we have drawn out some of the themes that persuade us that the EU is not what it seems, nor what it is presented as. The detailed analysis in our linked paper gives many more examples. Of course one speech cannot on its own represent an entity as large and complex as the EU. However, the points we draw out are represented so widely in other EU documents and in its history that we are confident that our analysis is fair and that the EU will, in due course, be found wanting and dissolved. We have trawled through and dissected several EU documents, including last year’s state of the union address, and our evidence is gathered in another long paper, linked here, and summarised under selected themes in recent posts, including: Overtime Lords, Democracy or Institutional Strengthening? and Ideology. Also worth reading, if you need more evidence, is our analysis of the Five Presidents Report (from April 2016), which picks out the true agenda from amongst a mist of propaganda and specious claims.