Jean-Claude Juncker commenting on the outcomes of his journey at the office as president of the EU Commission.

First published in October 2019.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave a speech earlier this evening reflecting on his time at the helm of the European Commission. Speaking at the EPC Thought Leadership Forum, he looked back on five years of successes and failures, of unprecedented challenges and crises, but with a firm conviction that “Europe is in a better place now than it was in 2014.”

Following opening remarks by EPC President Herman Van Rompuy, in which he lauded Juncker’s leadership and ‘balanced judgement’, the Commission President started by saying that “everything Europe is today, is born out of a set of ideas that followed the destruction of the Second World War, which were then further developed “through reasoned debate”. He added that “in the past two decades, the European Policy Centre has been at the centre of that debate, and your dreams, thoughts and visions have helped shape it.”

In his final public speech in Brussels as Commission President – at least, hopefully, he quipped – Juncker listed the Commission’s accomplishments during his mandate: Greece is still in the eurozone, and today, is back on its feet; despite the worst socio-economic crisis to hit Europe in decades, 11 millions new jobs were created; the European Pillar of Social Rights has become a reality; and most importantly, the EU has managed to regain citizens’ trust, which was at an all-time low in 2014.

The most divisive issue was migration, he told the audience. He was proud to say he had consistently advocated the importance of saving lives and opening up legal pathways for refugees to come to Europe. He regretted that he was unable to achieve all he wanted, but he also believed the EU did make important progress: since 2015, it has taken in more refugees than Australia, Canada and the US combined.

Janis Emmanouilidis and Jean-Claude Juncker. / EPC

The most difficult and disappointing moment in his mandate was, of course, Brexit, which he called “a shame” and could have “acted as a catalyst for others to leave and split the EU for ever.”

“But unity prevailed”, he went on, “although this took a lot more negotiating and work than people realise.”

He conveyed the message that overall, the Commission had succeeded in getting the Union back on track: “Today we are looking at a different Europe, a stronger and more resilient continent, slowly finding its way in the world. But I think that we are also seen by others as a different Union.”

He furthermore said that, during his mandate, the Union has emerged as an economic superpower, ushering in a new generation of trade agreements which, although heavily critiqued by the public, reflect European values, from the way they are negotiated to the high environmental and labour standards they uphold: “The world knows it can count on us to defend the multilateral rule-based order.”

In this context, he reiterated how unhappy he is with the European Council’s decision to not start accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, adding that if the EU wants to be taken seriously, “we have to keep our promises to our partners.”

In the closing moments of his speech, he declared to have ‘done his best’, and concluded that “it has been the honour of my life to serve the European Union.”

When asked by Janis A. Emmanouilidis, Director of studies at the EPC, if Juncker could offer one last piece of advice to the audience, and to all Europeans, he replied: “Take care of Europe, and let’s make sure that it stays an open continent. Remember to be patriotic, not nationalistic.🔷

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[This is an original piece, based on a Press Release by the EPC, first published by the author in on 24 October 2019. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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(Cover: EPC. - Jean-Claude Juncker. | 24 Oct 2019. / Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)