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Jean-Claude Juncker, the unsung European hero

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission is a man of experience. Fulfilling a ministerial role for 27 years, he has occupied nearly all of the highest European posts. However, he has a surprisingly youthful spirit. On 13th September he delivered his yearly speech to the European Parliament on the State of the Union. Europeans should be inspired by it if they read it carefully.

This is because it simultaneously marks new directions in terms of the work of the common institutions, a thoroughly realistic ambition for Europe and true vision for the future.

As he adopts the motto: "a Europe that protects, that helps and defends" he recalls some forgotten truths: over the last two years European growth has been higher than that of the USA, over 2% - unemployment is declining everywhere and 235 million Europeans have work, a record figure. Since 2014, 8 million jobs have been created. Mr Juncker's investment plan has mobilised 225 billion euro that have benefited 445,000 SMEs and 270 infrastructure projects. Public deficits are dropping everywhere to lie at 1.6% of the GDP on average.

Ten years after the crisis Europe has bounced back, and in spite of strong national disparities, it is doing well. Even the most sensitive issues, like that of the refugees, are now leading to some promising results. The arrival of shipwrecked populations on our shores has reduced due to common action - a 97% reduction in the Eastern Mediterranean and 81% in the Western Mediterranean.

Under Mr Juncker's inspiration the European Commission has undeniably adopted a more "political, more intelligent" attitude, thereby reducing its regulatory proposals to 25, whereas before it was producing more than 100 per year; it now conditions its external aid with the active collaboration of the transit countries, showing flexibility and solidarity with countries in difficulty.

But Jean-Claude Juncker is also a former head of government and he knows that nothing can succeed in Europe without the support of the Member States and their citizens.

His proposals are pragmatic and realistic. Demanding reciprocity in trade agreements, he marks a break from a rather naive systematic custom of openness to international trade. From now on the Commission's negotiations on behalf of the States will be totally transparent and will have to include social and environmental aspects. Discussions are to start with new partners, like Australia and New Zealand.

Foreign investments in Europe will be closely monitored in strategic sectors which the States would like to protect. A true European industrial strategy is now taking shape. It has been keenly anticipated for a long time. The digital and energy sectors, which are fundamental for Europe's autonomy, will be a priority. Social harmonisation has now made its entry into the European agenda via real, immediate proposals.

Finally, his vision of the future ought to please many people. The refounding of the treaties was not a priority but a means, opinion regarding Europe has to be liberated and he supports the wish expressed by the French president to organise democratic conventions in all areas desired by the citizens.

By placing emphasis on cultural diversity, i.e. the respect of identities, he illustrates no flexibility regarding the three principles of freedom, equality and the requirements of the rule of law. Some will find an obstacle in their way and a welcome reminder. Hostile out of principle to "the labyrinthine methods" in which the 28 excel, Mr Juncker is proposing that taxation and the common foreign policy be facilitated by a different practice from the treaties. Many more distant goals have been put forward to support the euro, to strengthen the fight to counter terrorism and cybercrime, the monitoring the borders and the respect of a base of social standards.

We would therefore be wrong to read this speech through the prism of the Member States' internal policy alone or their relations in terms of power struggles.

Jean-Claude Juncker forcibly makes Emmanuel Macron a happy man since their proposals are in line with one another as never before. They should also satisfy the Germans, whose electoral campaign has confirmed the national political consensus in support of the EU, and we are impatiently expecting to see how Chancellor Merkel will transpose this into the European area.

Of course this ambitious programme has to be implemented and differences will emerge that will be the focus of bitter diplomatic negotiations. Of course if differences emerge regarding the means to be employed, the goals are already shared: defending and promoting Europe, democratising; placing emphasis on culture and identity.

European revival is now well on course; the Paris-Berlin-Brussels trio seems to be aligned; it can count on the support of many other partners. The wind is now blowing in Europe's sails again.