The “wind is back in Europe’s sails”, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said in his annual state of the union address.
He told the European Parliament there was a “window of opportunity” to build a stronger, more united union – but it “wouldn’t stay open forever”.
Mr Juncker said the EU had made economic strides in the year since his last such address.
But he called for the union to seize the momentum and agree new trade deals.
Trade talks should open with Australia and New Zealand, he said, and be completed by late 2019.
‘Brexit isn’t everything’
Mr Juncker looked forward to a European Union beyond the UK’s departure on 29 March 2019, where membership of the banking union, eurozone and the Schengen border-free zone would be standard.
On Brexit itself, addressing the UK he said that “we will always regret this, and I think you will regret this too, soon”. “We will move on because Brexit isn’t everything. It isn’t the future of Europe – it’s not the be all and end all.”
During a speech last just over an hour, in English, French and German, Mr Juncker focused on the future of the union itself and the challenges it faces:
- He praised Europe’s progress on migration, saying it protected its external borders in a more efficient manner, and he highlighted Italy’s “perseverance and generosity” in helping to manage irregular migration
- Work needed to be done opening legal migration routes and ending “scandalous” conditions in Libya, he said
- Europe had to pursue a “credible enlargement project to the countries of the western Balkans”
- It was high time for Romania and Bulgaria to be brought into the EU’s border-free Schengen zone and Croatia should join when it was ready.
He accused Turkey of distancing itself from the EU, and called on the government in Ankara to “let our journalists go” and to stop personal attacks on European leaders.