EU Chief Appeals for Unity in Europe

EU Chief Appeals for Unity in Europe

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union needs to unite and overcome internal bickering to remain relevant at a time when ever more people question its relevance in the face of multiple and fundamental crises, the head of the bloc's executive said Wednesday.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his self-styled "State of the European Union" address to the European Parliament that the EU "still does not have enough Union."

With Europe wracked by fears over extremism, the refugee emergency and economic woes, Juncker told legislators that EU integration cannot be for individual member states to manage alone and insisted that "too often national interests are brought to the fore."

Two days before EU leaders meet in Bratislava, Slovakia, to plot a new way ahead in the wake of Britain's destabilizing decision to leave the bloc — the first time a member has quit — Juncker said that "we have to stop this war according to which all success is national and all failure is European."

Eastern member states have been arguing against too much EU integration and the specter of a federal European superstate, and the issue is expected to be the main battleground for months, even years, to come as the EU deals with the fallout of Britain's departure.

As such, Juncker's centralized EU Commission has come under pressure, accused of being a power grabber at the expense of the freedoms of the member nations to manage things like migrant arrivals.

"People in Europe don't want this petty envy between the various institutions," he said at the assembly in Strasbourg, France. "They want results. The next 12 months are decisive if we want to realize our union."

Juncker's speech has been hotly anticipated as the EU struggles with multiple crises, including the influx of migrants over the past year, continuing unemployment and financial insecurity.

Juncker called for more EU action when it comes to common defense, dealing with external borders, climate action and commercial enterprise.

He specifically said the EU must do more in the defense field, and no longer be overly dependent on the United States. 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 it was the usual recipe — more Europe, in this particular case, more military Europe."

Britain still has to officially trigger the exit negotiations to become the first member state to walk away from Europe's biggest unity project. Juncker said, "we would be happy if the request for Brexit could happen as quickly as possible so that we could take the specific steps which need to happen."

There are fears the EU is facing paralysis until Britain decides to move. Juncker also warned that Britain should expect not to get the same access to the EU's unified market as if nothing happened. "There can be no a la carte access to the single market," he said.

(KA)