European Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker issued a call for unity among the eastern and western European countries during his State of the European Union address on Wednesday September 14, as tensions continue to swell among member states following Britain’s leave vote.
Juncker cited growing nationalism among countries in response to the ongoing refugee crisis as a major issue that needs to be tackled, and said “the scope in which we cooperate is far too small.”
“Far too often national interests are brought to the fore,” he said. “We shouldn’t misunderstand this – European integration must not bow to the interests of the nation state. Europe cannot become a colorless melting pot.”
In addition to his call for unity, Juncker announced a plan to invest directly in African countries in an effort to stop the migration crisis at its source. He called for the establishment of a $49 million fund that could possibly be doubled later on, depending on how successful it is.
Juncker said he and the EU should “remain on a friendly basis” with Britain, but warned that the country shouldn’t expect to have the same access to the EU’s single market once it officially triggers its exit.
“We respect and at the same time regret the UK decision, but the European Union as such is not at risk,” he said.
Juncker encouraged Britain to begin with exit negotiations as soon as possible so that both sides could move on in their own directions.
After the British people voted to leave the EU in June, leaders have been struggling to maintain unity between several eastern states that have voiced support for less bureaucracy coming from the Union and others that seek a stronger centralized power.
The divisions between countries were highlighted Tuesday when Luxembourg’s foreign minister called for Hungary to be suspended from the EU after he said refugees in the country are being treated like “animals.”
“Anyone who, like Hungary, builds fences against refugees from war or who violates press freedom and judicial independence should be excluded temporarily, or if necessary for ever, from the EU,” Jean Asselborn said in an interview with the German paper Die Welt.
Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó, responded to the criticism in a statement, calling Asselborn “an intellectual lightweight” and saying he is too closely aligned with the EU to be taken seriously.
“It is somewhat curious that Jean Asselborn and Jean-Claude Juncker – who both come from the country of tax optimization – speak about jointly sharing burdens. But we understand what this really means: Hungary should take on the burden created by the mistakes of others,” Szijjártó said.
On October 2, Hungary will hold a referendum vote to decide whether the EU can mandate the number of refugees resettled in the country without the approval of Hungary’s National Assembly.
(Photo: EC Audiovisual Service)