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14 Sep, 2016 14:10

EU should have role in Syria talks & own military HQ - Juncker’s annual address

EU should have role in Syria talks & own military HQ - Juncker’s annual address

The EU should play a part in Syria peace negotiations and have its own military force “to complement NATO,” European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said in his annual address to the European Parliament.

The EC president insisted it was unthinkable for the European Union not to take part in the negotiations to resolve the war in Syria, and proposed developing a common European strategy for the war-torn Middle East country.

The consequences for Europe of this conflict are immediate but where [is] the Union, where are the member states, in the negotiations to try to solve this conflict?” Juncker asked.

I’m asking for us to draw up a European strategy for Syria,” he added.

He suggested that Europe needs a general minister of foreign affairs to represent the common interests of the Union on all international political platforms, including the Syrian crisis negotiation table. He recommended Federica Mogherini, who already partly does this job.

"Federica (Mogherini) should have a seat at the negotiating table on the future of Syria,” he said. 

Juncker said the 28-nation organization “should be stronger” and thus create an EU military headquarters, working toward a common military force. The UK’s vote in June to withdraw from the European Union means the EU is about to lose its militarily most capable member state. Junсker noted that greater defense cooperation would allow the EU to make up for the loss and could be a relief for the economies of member nations, as it will end the “wasteful duplication” of defense spending yearly, which adds up to about 100 billion euros ($112bn).

We should work towards a common military force to complement NATO,” he said, adding that the Commission should generally do more in the area of defense in order to no longer be overly dependent on the US-led NATO bloc, to which 22 EU member states also belong. He stated that the EC will propose a common European Defense Fund “to boost military research and innovation” by the end of the year. He noted, however, that “more European defense in Europe doesn’t mean less trans-Atlantic solidarity.

In order to enhance domestic security, the official proposed increasing assistance to Europol and data sharing, as well as launching an EU travel information system to determine who is eligible to arrive in Europe. 

By November, we will be proposing a new information system, a travel information system, which will be automated... In this way, we will see who will be traveling into Europe, but before that person even arrives on our territory,” Juncker said, without providing further details. Last year, more than one million people fleeing crisis-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa headed through Europe in search of a peaceful life. Among other things, Juncker called for a €44 billion ($49bn) investment plan for Africa to help stem the push factors that cause people to flee their homes. 

The EU is still struggling to handle the numerous newcomers who undertook the journey but have to live in camps scattered across the EU, waiting to be relocated or given asylum. Europe saw a number of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) perpetrators who came to the EU under the guise of being refugees, and European politicians have been mulling over a way to distinguish those who seek asylum from those who come to kill.

Regarding the refugees who await their fate in camps or wait to get a chance to come to Europe in Turkey, Juncker appealed to member nations to do their “fair share” to relocate and resettle them, especially those of them who are under-aged. Greece alone registered over 3,300 unaccompanied migrant children arriving on its land in the first seven months of 2016. Junсker noted that there has been more accord between member states on the issue of relocating and distributing migrants between them, but said a lot more accord and cooperation is needed. 

I am asking [for] a long and immediate action both from Greece and the European Union to protect what we call in French ‘les enfants non accompagnés’ [unaccompanied minors]. We want protection of these children, [otherwise] the European Union is betraying its historic values.

“[…] When it comes to managing the refugee crisis we have started to see solidarity. I am convinced much more solidarity is needed,” Juncker said, noting however that he will not push the issue as “solidarity must be voluntary, must come from the heart.”  

To help deal with asylum seekers ‘in the field,’ the EC president suggested creating a “European Solidarity Corps” - the EU equivalent of the US Peace Corps - an organization which would allow young people to take part in tackling crisis situations on a voluntary basis.

Juncker said he hoped to see the first 100,000 young Europeans take part in the initiative by 2020.

Together we have to make sure that we protect our interests,” Juncker said, calling on the union to actually demonstrate its unity through its actions.

One year ago… I stated that the state of the union left much to be desired… that in our union there was not enough union. In spite of the progress which has been made, it still applies.

“[…] Too often national interests [of member states] are brought to the fore,” Juncker said, proposing an abundance of spheres where the EU’s lack of unity could be amended. 

Apart from common defense and dealing with external borders and conflicts, he urged more EU action when it comes to internal crises, such as tackling youth unemployment, supporting the agriculture sphere and providing decent salaries for “artists and creators” throughout the EU.