Juncker says ‘wind back in Europe’s sails’

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker looks on before addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 13 September 2017
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Juncker says ‘wind back in Europe’s sails’

STRASBOURG, France: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a flagship speech Wednesday that the “wind is back in Europe’s sails” after last year’s shock Brexit vote, an act he insisted Britain would regret.
In his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Juncker said the troubled bloc had become more united in the past 12 months and stressed that economic momentum was picking up.
The former Luxembourg premier urged deeper integration across the board, calling for more states to join the euro and the passport-free Schengen area, and proposing a single EU chief and dedicated pan-European finance minister.
“All this leads me to believe the wind is back in Europe’s sails,” Juncker told MEPs in the French city of Strasbourg, in a speech that mixed English, French and German.
“We have now a window of opportunity but it will not stay open forever. Let us make the most of the momentum, catch the wind in our sails.”
Juncker did not utter the word “Brexit” until the very end of his 80-minute speech, saying that “we will regret it, but you will regret it too,” earning jeers from British euroskeptics in the chamber.
“We must respect the will of the British people, but we will move forward, we will move forward — because Brexit is not everything, because Brexit is not the future of Europe,” the veteran politician added.
British euroskeptic leader Nigel Farage responded to Juncker’s plans by telling him: “Thank God we’re leaving — you’ve learnt nothing from Brexit.”
While a future EU-UK trade deal remains a distant prospect, Juncker called on the bloc to seal trade deals with Australia and New Zealand by the end of his mandate.
The 62-year-old has two years left in office as head of the EU’s powerful executive arm to ensure that his legacy is not limited to the departure of one of the European Union’s largest member states.
He struck a far more optimistic tone than when he stood at the podium in September 2016, admitting then that “it was plain for all to see that our union was not in a good state, battered by a year that shook our very foundations.”
With the rise of populism — after Brexit and the election of US President Donald Trump — apparently at bay for now, and growth returning after the debt crisis, Juncker said there were reasons to be cheerful.
He looked ahead to the day after Britain’s departure on March 29, 2019, saying Europe should “throw off the bowlines, sail away from the harbor” — and have another summit, in Romania.
Juncker called for an elected “single president” to lead the EU, merging his job as head of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and the president of the European Council of member states, currently held by Donald Tusk.
He said Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia should all finally become full members of the Schengen zone, which allows free movement of people and open borders between European countries.
The eurozone should meanwhile be expanded beyond the 19 countries that currently use the single currency, in line with the EU’s treaties that say all states must join the euro.
Juncker furthermore backed French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a pan-European finance minister, a big step toward deeper integration of the eurozone, whose proponents want to see further united to tackle any future crisis.
His call for increased cooperation was however balanced with the need to heal a deepening split with eastern European countries that resist any move to further integration.
Juncker nevertheless lashed out at EU countries that breach the “rule of law” — a swipe at Poland and Hungary which have been at odds with Brussels over democratic standards.
Turkey was also on the receiving end of Juncker’s barbs, as he urged Ankara to “let our journalists go” following the jailing of several European reporters.
Turkey’s own long-stalled membership bid was ruled out “for the forseeable future” as a result of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown following a coup attempt last year, he said.


Leaders of two Koreas hold surprise meeting as Trump revives summit hopes

Updated 27 May 2018
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Leaders of two Koreas hold surprise meeting as Trump revives summit hopes

SEOUL/WASHINGTON: South Korean President Moon Jae-in held a surprise meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday in an effort to ensure that a high-stakes summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump takes place successfully, South Korean officials said.
The meeting was the latest dramatic turn in a week of diplomatic flip-flops surrounding the prospects for an unprecedented summit between the United States and North Korea, and the strongest sign yet that the two Korean leaders are trying to keep the on-again off-again summit on track.
Their two hours of talks at the Panmunjom border village came a month after they held the first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade at the same venue. At that meeting, they declared they would work toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
“The two leaders candidly exchanged views about making the North Korea-US summit a successful one and about implementing the Panmunjom Declaration,” South Korea’s presidential spokesman said in a statement. He did not confirm how the meeting was arranged or which side asked for it.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said an advance team of White House and US State Department officials would leave for Singapore on schedule this weekend to prepare for a possible summit there.
Reuters reported earlier this week that a US advance team was scheduled to discuss the agenda and logistics for the summit with North Korean officials.
“There is a very strong possibility a US-North Korea summit could be back on very soon,” said Harry Kazianis of the conservative Center for the National Interest think-tank in Washington.
Whether one takes place depends on Kim agreeing to some sort of a realistic and verifiable denuclearization plan, added Kazianis, citing his own Trump administration sources. “If not, no summit. That is what it hinges on,” he said.
TRUMP HAILS “PRODUCTIVE TALKS“
In a letter to Kim on Thursday, Trump had said he was canceling the summit planned for June 12 in Singapore, citing North Korea’s “open hostility.”
But on Friday he indicated the meeting could be salvaged after welcoming a conciliatory statement from Pyongyang.
“We’re talking to them now. They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
In a tweet later, Trump cited “very productive talks” and said that if the summit were reinstated it would likely remain in Singapore on June 12, and that it could be extended if necessary.
A senior White House official told reporters on Thursday that organizing a summit by June 12 could be a challenge, given the amount of dialogue needed to ensure a clear agenda.
“And June 12 is in ... 10 minutes,” the official said.
If the summit is not held, some analysts warn that the prospect of a military confrontation between the two nations would rise, while a successful summit would mark Trump’s biggest foreign policy achievement.
The Trump administration is demanding that North Korea completely and irreversibly shutter its nuclear weapons program. Kim and Trump’s initial decision to meet followed months of war threats and insults between the leaders over the program.
Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests, and has developed a long-range missile that could theoretically hit anywhere in the United States. Experts, however, are doubtful that North Korea possesses a warhead capable of surviving the stresses of re-entering Earth’s atmosphere.
Video and a photo released by South Korea’s presidential Blue House on Saturday showed Kim hugging Moon and kissing him on the cheek three times as he saw Moon off after their meeting at Tongilgak, the North’s building in the truce village, which lies in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) — the 2.5-mile (4 km) wide buffer that runs along the heavily armed military border.
Video footage also showed Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, greeting Moon as he arrived at Tongilgak and shaking hands, before the South Korean leader entered the building flanked by North Korean military guards.
Moon is the only South Korean leader to have met a North Korean leader twice, both times in the DMZ, which is a symbol of the unending hostilities between the nations after the Korean War ended in 1953 in a truce, not a peace treaty.