Written by Aidan Christie
The US President’s State of the Union address has been an annual feature for generations. The corresponding speech to the European Parliament by the President of the Commission has a shorter history but its aim is essentially the same – to report publicly to parliamentarians, and to a broader audience of citizens, on the development of the European Union over the past year and on the executive’s main priorities for the coming year.
On Wednesday 9 September, as his maiden year as President of the European Commission draws to a close, Jean-Claude Juncker will give his first State of the Union speech to the European Parliament. He will use the opportunity to report on progress on his ten political priorities, set out in last year’s election campaign. Since the Commission took office in November, efforts have been made on all ten, although in most case they are still works in progress. With that in mind, Juncker will set out the main elements of the Commission’s work programme for 2016, although the full programme is not due to be adopted until the end of October.
As any executive, the European Commission has to deal with immediate priorities as well as longer term goals. The burgeoning migrant crisis, which has seen ever-increasing numbers of people arriving in Europe from the likes of Syria, Afghanistan and African states over the summer months, is now the main issue on leaders’ desks. With this Commission’s first initiatives on migration, from May 2015, now close to coming into effect, Juncker is expected to announce a series of further measures to address the immediate and longer-term issues related to the reception of migrants in Europe.
In the US, the State of the Union address has become an annual set-piece event, much previewed and analysed by the media and politicians. Moreover, it is broadcast live on television and radio, and now internet, in prime time, with the aim of connecting with citizens. The requirement for Presidents to report to Congress stems in fact from the US Constitution, and in modern times Presidents have all chosen to make that report in person, rather than in writing as happened in the past.
The European Parliament’s State of the Union debate is a more recent event, being launched in 2010 with a speech from Commission President José Manuel Barroso, in fulfilment of a pledge written into the 2010 Parliament-Commission framework agreement. Barroso delivered four State of the Union speeches, which inevitably focused on the various phases of the financial crisis and the EU’s response to them. Although the debate did not take place in 2014, due to the renewal of the Commission following the elections, the practice is now well established.