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Opinion

Opinion: EU focusing on many small projects (since the big ones don't work)

"Our European Union is [...] in an existential crisis," said the EU Commission president. Instead of a tour de force, he offered small projects with practical benefits: a calculated withdrawal, says DW's Barbara Wesel.

Jean-Claude Juncker has never been so cool and without emotion. He read his speech on the state of the European Union as though he were quoting stock market prices. There was no trace to be seen of the passionate European of yesteryear. The president of the EU Commission has dropped the enthusiasm for unity and solidarity, backpedaling politically and rhetorically.

"If you're having visions, go see your doctor," is what former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt once said. Juncker's assessment seemed to be inspired by Schmidt's icy sentiment. No more words were wasted on further integration in Europe; actually, the opposite was expressed. Juncker emphasized the diversity of the national states and gave the impression that he wanted to somehow conform to the slogans of the populists. But it never helped anyone to cater to their tastes. The love for national folklore will not enable Europe to take steps forward.

Many different small-scale projects

Otherwise, the Commission chief offered a colorful assortment of ideas: free internet, protection for steel workers, money for dairy farmers, youth unemployment projects, the fight against tax avoidance and a new copyright law. Anyone can choose from a big basket of European benefits to suit their needs. But it is doubtful whether people who are now drawn to populist demagogues can ever be convinced of the EU again.

Porträt - Barbara Wesel

DW's Barbara Wesel

The only political initiative pursued by EU leaders relates to security and defense: European citizens are said to be insecure and frightened at the moment. In two months, the first EU border guards will be deployed in Bulgaria. If public opinion becomes stronger, things can change rapidly in Europe. The same goes for an EU-wide border control system for people entering the EU and the surveillance of the EU's external borders.

And finally, the ground will finally be cleared for an old German-French project: Paris and Berlin can begin to forge a defense union that any willing countries can join – and in the end, it might even become a European army. The whole endeavor would help - but not compete against - NATO. Citizens would certainly welcome the cost savings in defense budgets. The Brexit vote and the end of British intransigence could finally pave the way to a defense union. So actually, there are positive Brexit effects.

Brexit will not destroy us

The Brexit itself will not destroy the Union, Juncker promised his audience. The statement is true, for Brexit is only a symptom of the EU malaise and not its cause. Many other EU countries have similar doubts and also reject European unity. In many there is a looming threat of revived nationalism, border fences and new divisions in Europe. If anything can destroy the bloc, then it is the resurrection of the ghosts of yesteryear.

Jean-Claude Juncker seems to believe it is time that Europe lowers its sights. Government leaders will probably adopt his stance when they meet in Bratislava on Friday. "History will not remember us, but it will remember our mistakes," was his best attempt at providing words of wisdom. The EU only has a few months to overcome its depression and then cautiously embark on a journey to new shores.

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