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EU chief says bloc is ‘bouncing back’ after crisis-hit decade

‘The wind is back in Europe’s sails,’ said CommissionPresident Jean-Claude Juncker. (Reuters)
BRUSSELS: The EU is in a healthier economic state than it has been for more than a decade and is ready to move on from Brexit, the bloc’s top official said on Wednesday.
Addressing lawmakers at the European Parliament, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU is “bouncing back” after a tough decade that has seen much of the 28-country bloc mired in an economic crisis and Britain vote to leave.
“The wind is back in Europe’s sails,” he said in an upbeat hour-long annual “State of the European Union” address in Strasbourg, France.
Juncker, whose Commission proposes EU legislation and polices the bloc’s laws, said the EU is into its fifth year of economic recovery, with unemployment at a nine-year low.
“Let us make the most of the momentum, catch the wind in our sails,” he said. “Europe can deliver for its citizens where and when it matters.”
Since the global financial crisis first bared its teeth a decade ago, the EU project has been dealt a series of blows, most notably with Britain’s decision last year to leave. It has also had to contend with economic difficulties afflicting the countries — currently 19 — that use the euro as their currency. However, the euro zone crisis appears to have abated somewhat and Greece is set to end its bailout era next summer.
With Britain due to leave the EU in March 2019, Juncker vowed that the bloc would take on no new members in the short-term, and he dealt a blow to Turkey’s hopes of joining Europe’s rich club anytime soon.
“Turkey has been moving away from the European Union in leaps and bounds,” he said, criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government for arresting journalists and branding EU leaders “fascists and Nazis.”
Ankara’s attitude, Juncker said, “rules out EU membership for Turkey in the foreseeable future.”
As the EU comes to terms with losing one of its biggest member states, Juncker called for the bloc’s leaders to meet in Romania the day after Britain leaves on March 29, 2019 to chart the way forward as 27 member states.
Juncker vowed that the EU “will move forward once Britain leaves,” saying that “Brexit is not everything. It’s not the future of Europe.”
To cheering British lawmakers celebrating the country’s departure, Juncker said: “I think you will regret it quite soon.”
With the EU under fire for policies perceived to be blocking migrants in dangerous and sordid detention centers in Libya, Juncker said, “Europe has got a collective responsibility” to help improve conditions there.
He told lawmakers that the EU must work closely with the UN’s refugee agency to ensure that this “scandalous situation” does not continue.

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