Press release: State of the European Union: Fixing the symptoms, neglecting the root-cause

Brussels, 17.09.2020. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen delivered her State of the European Union (SOTEU) address, highlighting the EU’s achievements in the last year and presenting her priorities for the future. Whilst she broadly addressed many important challenges and hinted at several reforms the Union needs, she touched on crucial key areas only very vaguely, failing to deliver a long-term vision for democratising the EU. 

“Next to cool-sounding futuristic policy projects, President von der Leyen proposed a health union, bigger carbon emission cuts, a migration pact, a European ‘Magnitsky’ Act and moving towards qualified majority decision-making in foreign policy. She highlighted combatting racism as well as standing with LGBTQI people: important changes that need to be done for Europe to move forward. But we have to make sure the national leaders take these proposals seriously, so that these are not becoming just a recurring soundbite during future SOTEU addresses”, comments Leonie Martin, President of JEF Europe.

At the same time, the ‘new push for European democracy’, a priority of von der Leyen’s electoral agenda, was visibly neglected. The erosion of the rule of law was presented as an issue that can be solved by publishing an annual report and introducing a not further specified conditionality mechanism on EU funds. The heavily promoted Conference on the Future of Europe was mentioned only in passing, with no details; last year’s big promise of supporting the right for legislative initiative of the European Parliament was not even mentioned: where are the Commission’s ambitions for European democracy? “While the focus on addressing immediate public health and economic concerns is justified, the speech unfortunately did not bring in anything promising for the long-term political integration and democratisation of the European Union. Democracy shouldn’t be treated as a trendy topic you can easily dismiss”, continues Leonie Martin.

In JEF’s view, most challenges the EU faces and will be facing are due to its incomplete design that favours intergovernmentalism, not letting the Union become more than the sum of its parts. While there will be always pressing challenges around like the COVID19 pandemic or economic stagnation, the EU must move from addressing symptoms to dealing with the root of the problem – that is, the intergovernmental barriers, persisting national vetoes and the insufficient level of integration: to guarantee fundamental values and respond to global challenges it is time for us to become a real political union, a European federation to create a genuine pan-European democracy “Let’s hope the next State of the European Union goes beyond crisis management towards redesigning the whole crisis-prone system we have constantly been trying to patch up” concludes Martin.


About JEF Europe

The Young European Federalists (JEF) Europe is a non-partisan youth NGO with 10,000  members active in over 30 countries. The organisation strives towards a federal Europe based on the principles of democracy and subsidiarity as well as respect for human rights. JEF promotes true European Citizenship, and works towards more active participation of young people in democratic life. While the umbrella organisation JEF Europe was founded in 1972, its sections have been operating continuously since the end of the Second World War, making it the oldest pro-European and only federalist youth organisation.


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Contact information

Leonie Martin
Young European Federalists
Rue d’Arlon 53
1040 Brussels