In a “state of the union” annual address in front of the European Parliament, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has announced plans that offer a “swift, determined and comprehensive” response to Europe’s migrant crisis.
Under the proposals, 120,000 additional asylum seekers will be distributed among EU countries, with binding quotas.
It comes after a surge of thousands of mainly Syrian migrants pushed north through Europe in recent days.
Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament it was “not a time to take fright”.
He was heckled by UK anti-European Union politician Nigel Farage, but dismissed his comments as “worthless”.
Germany, the main destination for many migrants, supports quotas, but some EU countries oppose a compulsory system.
Hungary – a key point on a migrant route – has been warned to expect an additional 40,000 migrants by the end of next week.
In a separate development Australia, which has been under pressure to do more to help displaced people, has announced plans to take in more Syrian refugees.
The Australian government said it would accept 12,000 Syrian refugees from persecuted minorities.
During his address, Jean-Claude Juncker outlined the priorities of the European Commission.
He opened his speech by admitting the European Union was “not in a good situation… There is a lack of Europe in this union, and a lack of union in this union”.
He said tackling the crisis was “a matter of humanity and human dignity”.
“It is true that Europe cannot house all the misery in the world. But we have to put it into perspective.
“This still represents just 0.11% of the EU population. In Lebanon refugees represent 25% of the population, which has just a fifth of the wealth of the EU. Who are we to never make such comparisons?”
Among Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposals:
EU member states to accept their share of an additional 120,000 refugees, building upon proposed quotas to relocate 40,000 refugees which were set out in May (though governments then only actually agreed to take 32,000)
A permanent relocation system to “deal with crisis situations more swiftly in the future”
Commission to propose list of “safe countries” to which migrants would generally have to return
Efforts to strengthen the EU’s common asylum system
A review of the so-called Dublin system, which states that people must claim asylum in the state where they first enter the EU
Better management of external borders and better legal channels for migration
“It’s 160,000 refugees in total that Europeans have to take into their arms and I really hope that this time everyone will be on board – no rhetoric, action is what is needed,” Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament.
The proposals will be discussed by EU home affairs ministers on September 14 in Brussels.
The new plans would relocate 60% of those now in Italy, Greece and Hungary to Germany, France and Spain.
The numbers distributed to each country would depend on GDP, population, unemployment rate and asylum applications already processed.
Countries refusing to take in migrants could face financial penalties.
The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Romania have opposed the idea of mandatory quotas.
On September 8, though, Poland appeared to soften its position. PM Ewa Kopacz said Poland would accept more migrants than the 2,000 it first offered to take.
Germany has welcomed Syrian migrants, waiving EU rules and saying it expects to deal with 800,000 asylum seekers this year alone – though not all will qualify as refugees and some will be sent back.
The mass migration has seen those seeking an end to persecution, conflict and hardship travel by boat, bus, train and on foot, from Turkey, across the sea to Greece, through Macedonia and Serbia, and then to Hungary from where they aim to reach Austria, Germany and Sweden.
Hungary’s PM Viktor Orban has been welcomed as “the dictator” by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, Latvia.
“The dictator is coming!” Jean-Claude Juncker was overheard saying as Viktor Orban approached him. He then repeated the word to Viktor Orban’s face, following it with a warm handshake and a slap on the cheek.
Viktor Orban’s reaction was a smile and a bit of friendly shoving.
PM Viktor Orban is no stranger to controversy. From his less than subtle views on subjects ranging from immigration to the homeless, he has been on the receiving end of a fair share of finger pointing.
Last month, Jean-Claude Juncker vowed to “battle” Viktor Orban’s possible intent to restore the death penalty, saying it goes against EU rules.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the newly appointed European Commission president, has revealed details of a €315 billion ($393 billion) investment plan to kick-start Europe’s economy.
At the heart of Jean-Claude Juncker’s 5-year agenda is a new €21 billion fund, which would be used as “seed money”, to entice private backers to “pitch in” most of the rest.
Only €8 billion of the original money would come from the EU budget itself.
The project would take the burden off national governments, already facing big debts after the financial crisis.
Critics have already suggested that the scheme is too small, and needs far more hard cash if it is to make a major difference.
However, Jean-Claude Juncker said Europe had to face “the challenge of a generation” head-on, without a money-printing machine, describing his plan as the greatest effort in recent EU history to trigger additional investment without changing the rules.
Illustrating the type of projects he had in mind, Jean-Claude Juncker said he had a vision of:
Schoolchildren walking into a brand new classroom equipped with computers in the Greek city of Thessaloniki
European hospitals saving lives with state of the art medical equipment
French commuters charging electric cars on motorways in the same way as petrol stations were used now
Households and companies becoming more energy efficient
The Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) would create the fund’s €21 billion reserve, according to Jean-Claude Juncker, which would then enable the EIB to fund loans worth €63 billion. Private investors would be expected to put forward the lion’s share of the money, some €252 billion.
Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech came a day after Pope Francis addressed the same parliament, criticizing an “elderly and haggard” Europe that had become less and less protagonist.
Initial reaction to Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan came from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who told the German parliament that her government supported the package in principle, but it had to be clear to everyone where the projects were in the future.
The Commission president, who came to office at the start of November, said he could not promise how much investment would go to each country, but he argued that investment in one country could only be good for growth in another.
Structural reforms were necessary to modernize Europe’s economy and fiscal responsibility was needed to restore confidence in public finance, but now investment had to be boosted as well, he said.
The start of the former Luxembourg prime minister’s term as president has been overshadowed by his country’s role in a tax break row.
Hundreds of multi-national firms were reportedly attracted to Luxembourg in legal tax avoidance schemes. Jean-Claude Juncker was prime minister at the time but denies wrongdoing.
Although a vote against Jean-Claude Juncker is due to take place at the European Parliament on November 27, it is unlikely to attract widespread support.
The newly elected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has denied allegations he encouraged tax avoidance when he was Luxembourg’s prime minister.
Jean-Claude Juncker, 59, said there was “nothing in my past to indicate that I wanted to encourage tax evasion”.
He has come under pressure over claims that some 340 global companies were granted deals to help them avoid tax during his 18 years in office.
The Commission has begun an investigation.
Jean-Claude Juncker has denied allegations he encouraged tax avoidance when he was Luxembourg’s prime minister
Jean-Claude Juncker, 59, took over as president of the Commission at the start of November and was confronted within days with a report by investigative journalists that alleged that companies such as Pepsi and Ikea had made deals with his country’s government to save billions in tax in other countries.
Incumbent PM Xavier Bettel was quoted as saying all deals abided by international tax rules, although Jean-Claude Juncker made no comment at the time.
In an unexpected appearance before journalists on November 12, the Commission President repeated the message.
“Everything that has been done has been in compliance with national legislation and international rules that apply in this matter,” he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has restated her support for Jean-Claude Juncker to take over as president of the European Commission, at a mini-summit in Sweden.
Angela Merkel said that while she was “happy” to say she wanted Jean-Claude Juncker for the top job, it was not “the main topic” of the two-day talks.
British PM David Cameron, who wants a less federalist candidate, said reform of EC policies had been the priority.
The Swedish and Dutch prime ministers also took part in the talks.
The European Council – representing the EU’s 28 heads of state – is due to announce its Commission candidate later this month.
The leaders have traditionally named the Commission head on their own. However, new rules mean they now have to “take into account” the results of the European Parliament elections, which were won in May by Jean-Claude Juncker’s centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) bloc.
Britain is leading a campaign to block his candidacy. Sweden’s Fredrik Reinfeldt and Dutch PM Mark Rutte are thought to back David Cameron’s position but did not address the issue with reporters on Tuesday.
Angela Merkel and David Cameron met Sweden’s Fredrik Reinfeldt and Dutch PM Mark Rutte at Harpsund mini-summit (photo Twitter)
“We have agreed that the future policy priorities of the EU must be decided before we can decide on appointments of different top jobs,” Fredrik Reinfeldt said.
Correspondents say the scene has been set for a lengthy power struggle between EU leaders and the European Parliament, with the UK worried about the prospect of a “stitch-up”.
The four centre-right politicians met in Harpsund, near Stockholm, to try to reach a consensus on European reform.
Job creation, economic growth and structural reforms to boost EU competitiveness were also discussed at the meeting, which finished on Tuesday morning.
Angela Merkel said the focus had been on “policy, which is what is really important for Europe and its citizens”.
“I have said it in Germany and so I will again here: Jean-Claude Juncker is my candidate for the position of Commission president and I want to have him as Commission president,” Angela Merkel told journalists at the end of the meeting.
“But that hasn’t been the main point. We didn’t talk about hypothetical situations and we don’t have to answer questions about them.”
David Cameron, who strongly opposes Jean-Claude Juncker’s belief in a closer political union between EU member states, said the right leaders were needed to reform Europe.
“If the European Union doesn’t go in that direction, that would be unhelpful,” he said.
David Cameron has promised British voters a referendum on EU citizenship in 2017, if he gets re-elected next year.
“Obviously the approach that the European Union takes between now and then will be very important,” he added.
The Commission president is the most powerful job in Brussels, shaping EU policy in key areas such as economic reform, immigration and ties with other global powers.
The EPP – the largest centre-right grouping in the parliament – won the most seats in May’s polls, and Jean-Claude Juncker has argued that gives him the mandate.
The decision will be made by the European Council by qualified majority vote. That means no single country can veto the choice.
The result is due to be announced at an EU summit on June 26-27, although an agreement by then is by no means guaranteed.
Eurozone finance ministers and the IMF have agreed on a deal on emergency bailout for debt-laden Greece.
They have agreed to cut debts by 40 billion euros ($51 billion) and have paved the way for releasing the next tranche of bailout loans – some 44 billion euros.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras welcomed the deal, saying “a new day begins for all Greeks”, but it was condemned by the main opposition party.
European and Asian shares and the euro all climbed on news of the agreement.
The German Dax and French Cac 40 indexes each rose by 0.8% at the start of trading on Tuesday, while in London the FTSE 100 gained 0.6%, reversing losses from Monday.
In Asia, the MSCI’s broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan gained 0.3% to its highest level in more than two weeks. Australian shares rose 0.7%, while South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index was up nearly 0.9%.
The euro reached its highest level against the dollar since 31 October, up about 0.2% to $1.30.
The breakthrough came after more than 10 hours of talks in Brussels. It was the eurozone’s third meeting in two weeks on Greece.
The deal opens the way for support for Greece’s teetering banks and will allow the government to pay wages and pensions in December.
The leader of the eurozone finance ministers’ group, Jean-Claude Juncker, said Greece would get the next installment of cash on 13 December.
Greece has been waiting since June for the tranche, to help its heavily indebted economy stay afloat.
European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi said the bailout would “strengthen confidence in Europe and in Greece”.
For his part, Jean-Claude Juncker said the deal did not just have financial implications.
“This is not just about money. It is the promise of a better future for the Greek people and for the Euro area as a whole.”
Greece’s international lenders have agreed to take steps to reduce the country’s debts, from an estimated 144%, to 124% of its gross domestic product by 2020.
These include cutting the interest rate on loans to Greece, and returning 11 billion euros to Athens in profits from ECB purchases of Greek government bonds.
Ministers have also agreed to help Greece buy back its own bonds from private investors.
So far the ECB, IMF and the European Commission have pledged a total of 240 billion euros in rescue loans, of which Greece has received around 150 billion euros.
In return, Greece has had to impose several rounds of austerity measures and submit its economy to scrutiny.
The European Union’s commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Olli Rehn, said it was crucial that a deal had finally been reached.
“For the eurozone this was a real test of our credibility, of our ability to take decisions on the most challenging of issues.
“And it was a test that we simply could not afford to fail.”
However, the Greek radical left opposition party Syriza – who came close to winning elections earlier this year – rejected the deal.
“It’s a half-baked compromise, a band-aid on the gaping wound of Greece’s debt,” said Syriza deputy Dimitris Papadimoulis, who claimed that the German Chancellor Angela Merkel had blocked attempts to cut Greece’s debt in half.
“This is a good deal, but I think a good deal was long overdue for Greece,” said Gerard Lyons, chief economist of Standard Chartered Bank.
“The most significant thing is the fact that about 20% of Greek debt has been written off,” he said. “The lesson of all crises elsewhere is that unless you start to write down debt you don’t really start to make inroads.”
However, Gerard Lyons cautioned that while the deal mitigated the risk of Greece leaving the euro, it did little to help the Greek economy recover.
“What Greece really needs is to reverse [its] austerity measures,” he added. Spending cuts by Athens – a pre-condition for its bailout – have been blamed for significantly worsening a multi-year contraction of the Greek economy.
The sentiment was echoed by Konstantinos Michalos, president of Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“[The deal] has to be seen as a major vote of confidence to the country,” said Konstantinos Michalos while affirming that “it’s simply extending the lifeline”.
Both agreed that Germany’s coming parliamentary elections played a role in making the deal possible.
“Six months ago the feeling in Europe generally was that they could sacrifice Greece,” said Gerard Lyons.
“That thinking has now changed, particularly in Germany.”
A new sense of caution has descended on Berlin ahead of the elections.
But while that has increased Germany’s willingness to head off the broader eurozone crisis that might be sparked by a Greek exit from the single currency, according to Konstantinos Michalos it has also made the German government less willing to grant Greece the greater leniency needed to ensure a stronger economic recovery.
Konstantinos Michalos said the onus was now on his own government to push through structural reforms – such as reducing protections for existing workers – in order to boost competitiveness and confidence in the economy, and achieve positive growth.
“We need to progress with these structural reforms immediately,” he said.
“It is not a question of years or months. It is a matter of weeks.”
The Greek economy is projected by Eurostat to have shrunk by a fifth by the end of this year since the crisis began in 2008.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande are set to hold talks in Berlin on whether to give Greece more time to make the cuts required by its debt bailout.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande will also meet Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras later this week.
Meeting Antonis Samaras yesterday, eurozone chief Jean-Claude Juncker kept the door open for a change to the bailout terms.
Heavily-indebted Greece is in its fifth year of recession and austerity.
Greece is currently trying to finalize a package of 11.5 billion euros ($14.4 billion) of spending cuts over the next two years.
It is also being asked to put in place economic and structural reforms, including changes to the labor market and a renewed privatization drive.
The measures are needed to qualify for the next 33.5 billion-euro installment of its second 130bn-euro bailout.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are set to hold talks in Berlin on whether to give Greece more time to make the cuts required by its debt bailout
The “troika” of donor bodies monitoring the bailout – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission – are due in Athens next month to report on whether Greece has made enough progress.
Greece needs the funds to make repayments on its debt burden. A default could result in the country leaving the euro.
Antonis Samaras is seeking an extension of up to two years for the painful steps, in order to provide Greece with the growth needed to improve its public finances.
In an interview published on Wednesday, he told Germany’s biggest daily, Bild, that his country needed “a little breathing space” in order to kick-start growth and reduce its deficit.
After meeting Antonis Samaras on Wednesday, Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker said a decision on an extension would depend on the troika’s report.
“We have to discuss the length of the period and other dimensions,” Jean-Claude Juncker told a news conference, while sitting alongside Antonis Samaras.
He said Greece was facing its “last chance” to make the necessary changes, but praised the “tremendous efforts” it has made so far to cut its deficit. He also stressed he was “totally opposed” to Greece leaving the euro.
Antonis Samaras called the discussions “fruitful”.
At least publicly, many EU leaders remain resolutely opposed to any moves to change the terms of Greece’s bailout.
But Jean-Claude Juncker’s remarks suggest there is room for manoeuvre and that an extension has not been ruled out.
Angel Merkel has said that she and Antonis Samaras will not make any decisions on the issue in their talks on Friday. Antonis Samaras goes on to meet Francois Hollande on Saturday.
On Wednesday, Francois Hollande also discussed Greece with British Prime Minister David Cameron in a telephone call.
“Both welcomed the recent actions of the ECB and agreed that this did not negate the need for Greece to stabilize their own economy and prevent any further detrimental effects to the wider eurozone,” David Cameron’s office said in a statement, without specifying which ECB actions they were referring to.
The talks come amid reports that due to the worsening state of the economy, which affects tax receipts and welfare spending levels, Greece may now need to find savings of up to 13.5 billion euros – 2 billion more than thought.
Eurozone finance ministers have decided to lend Spain 30 billion Euros ($37 billion) this month to help its troubled banks.
It will be the first installment of a bailout of up to 100 billion Euros, which was agreed in June.
The ministers will need to get approval from their own parliaments and hope to make the payment by the end of July.
The eurozone finance ministers also agreed to extend the 2013 deadline for Spain to cut its budget deficit to the EU limit of 3% by one year.
The yield on Spanish bonds rose sharply on Monday ahead of the meeting, with many fearing that little concrete action on Spanish banks would be reached.
Eurozone finance ministers have decided to lend Spain 30 billion Euros this month to help its troubled banks
“We are aiming at reaching a formal agreement in the second half of July, taking into account national parliamentary procedures, allowing for a first disbursement of 30 billion Euros by the end of the month to be mobilized as a contingency in case of urgent needs in the Spanish banking sector,” Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker said.
“There will be specific conditions for specific banks, and the supervision of the financial sector overall will be strengthened,” he added.
The exact amount that Spain needs for the bailout of its banks may not be known until September.
Jean-Claude Juncker also said that Madrid should implement measures needed to bring its public finances into line with EU norms.
On Saturday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy announced that he would take further steps soon to cut the country’s public deficit.
In a news conference at the end of Monday’s marathon meeting, a number of appointments were also announced.
The ministers reappointed Jean-Claude Juncker as their chairman and picked German Klaus Regling to head the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, which is due to come into force this month.
The conclusions of the finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the euro will be submitted to a meeting of all 27 EU finance ministers later on Tuesday.
On Monday, the yield on Spanish 10-year bonds, which are taken as a strong indicator of the interest rate the government would have to pay to borrow money, had risen above 7%, while Italian bond yields had reached to 6.1%.
Yields above 7% are considered to be unsustainable in the long term.
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