Yesterday Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addressed the annual State of the European Union speech (SOTEU) to the European Parliament. Modelled on the yearly State of the Union address in the United States, where the President of the United States delivers a speech to the joint session of the United States Congress, the SOTEU outlines the most pressing issues and policy priorities for the European Union at the opening of the parliamentary year of the European Parliament.
In this speech titled “Towards a better Europe – a Europe that protects, empowers and defends“, Juncker addressed the European Parliament for the second time in his career since he became President of the European Commission in 2014. Juncker highlighted the fact that Europe must invest strongly in its youth, jobseekers, and start-ups; announced a new European Border & Coast Guard and declared the ambition to have free wireless for every European village and city by 2020.
As much as the content of Juncker’s speech, it is interesting to observe how the SOTEU has grown in status as a political event. Introduced for the first time after the Lisbon Treaty in 2010, the SOTEU has become an important annual tradition, and perhaps even a symbol of how the European Union is slowly maturing in a political sense. As well as soundbites and catchphrases that were frequently used on social media (“This was a speech tailor-made for the social media age”), coverage of the speech in both European and national media outlets has been extensive. Whether framed as the “kick-start” of a dialogue with the European Parliament and Council to prepare the Commission’s 2017 Work Programme or as “Juncker’s JFK moment”, SOTEU has grown in importance over the years since its introduction. In a turbulent time for the EU, the form and content of SOTEU will remain interesting to keep an eye on in the years to come.