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article imageHighlights of Juncker's state of the union speech

By AFP     Sep 13, 2017 in World

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker gave an upbeat annual state-of-the-union speech Wednesday, saying the EU was emerging from years of crisis.

In the European Parliament in Strasbourg he outlined new goals during 80 minutes of remarks made in English, German and French. Here are the main points.

- Trade deals -

Juncker called for the EU, the world's biggest trading bloc, to open trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and conclude talks by the end of his mandate in late 2019. Deals with Mexico and South American countries are also in the pipeline, he said.

- Single president -

Juncker wants a single EU president to replace the heads of the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm -- and the European Council -- which groups the heads of the 28 member states and is currently headed by Poland's Donald Tusk.

The president would be elected after a "democratic Europe-wide election campaign."

The plan met swift resistance. Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said they should "not mix roles". A senior EU source said it was an "old, rather wide-ranging idea" that would require a change to the EU's treaties.

- EU finance minister -

Juncker said the EU should create its own Europe-wide finance minister to deepen integration of the eurozone. He also called for expanding the eurozone beyond the current 19 member countries, with the creation of a special agency to give technical and financial help.

- Expanding Schengen -

Juncker called for the passport-free Schengen zone of 26 countries to expand to Bulgaria and Romania "immediately" and to also include Croatia when it meets the criteria.

- Climate change -

Juncker urged Europe to take the lead on climate issues after the "collapse of ambition in the United States", which Donald Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate agreement.

- Foreign takeovers -

Juncker wants powers to screen foreign takeovers in Europe's strategic sectors, amid concern about investment by China.

- Defence and counterterrorism -

Juncker pushed for the EU to implement plans for a common defence strategy -- what critics call an "EU army". He also proposed a European intelligence unit to ensure the automatic sharing of data on suspected jihadists, and for a planned European prosecutor's office to be able to peruse those involved in cross-border terrorist transactions.

He also proposed the creation of a European Cybersecurity Agency to defend against a growing threat he warns is more dangerous to democratic and economic stability than conventional war.

- Migration -

Juncker slammed the "inhumane" conditions in migrant detention centres in Libya, whose UN-backed government is cooperating with the EU to stem the flow of migrants to Europe. He said the commission would unveil new proposals by the end of the month to send back economic migrants to mainly African countries.

- Western Balkans enlargement -

Juncker said that the EU would eventually enlarge beyond the 27 countries that will belong after Britain leaves in 2019, even though it has frozen new membership for now. The Western Balkan countries in particular need a "credible" plan, he said.

- Turkey -

Juncker ruled out for the "foreseeable future" Turkey's membership bid, due to the post-coup crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Juncker also urged Turkey "to let our journalists go" following the arrests of French and German journalists under a mass domestic crackdown.

- Brexit -

Juncker dealt with Brexit in less than 100 words of his speech, saying Britain and the EU would "regret" the decision but the EU must not be held back. He urged the EU to hold a summit in Romania shortly after Britain leaves to discuss the future.

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