The European Union might be hobbled by the departure of Britain and divided over accepting refugees, but the fundamentals of the bloc remain sound, said European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday.
In a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, Mr. Juncker pointed to the success of a new European investment fund as proof of the union's stability, proposing to double it to $707 billion by 2022 to counteract a post-economic crisis decline in spending on infrastructure projects such as airports and broadband networks.
"Our European investment fund will provide a total of at least 500 billion [Euros] of investment by 2020, and will work to reach 630 billion by 2022," he said, according to Reuters. "If with member states contribute we can get there even faster."
Juncker's speech was perhaps the most resounding pitch for the EU's durability since the Brexit vote, and marked a rebuttal to the battering many of the bloc's officials took during the campaign and in its immediate wake.
Juncker also suggested that the EU move toward a common military force, something the British have long opposed on the grounds of conflicting with NATO. Junker said such a force "should be in complement to NATO." "More defense in Europe doesn't mean less transatlantic solidarity," reported the BBC.
Another EU investment fund, Juncker said, should be created for the private sector in Africa as part of a plan to curb emigration to Europe. And the former Luxembourg premier reserved veiled criticism for eastern European leaders who have refused to accept refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, with Juncker saying that solidarity among EU leaders "must come from the heart."
"The European Union doesn't have enough union," he said, according to Reuters, adding that divisions had created space for "galloping populism."
Kit Gillet wrote for The Christian Science Monitor in August, as part of a 10-part series exploring the European identity, that in Romania, which joined the EU in 2007, the Brexit campaign's anti-immigrant rhetoric was received by much of the public as indicative of eastern Europe's mixed acceptance in the union:
For some Romanians, the Brexit referendum was commentary on how well they and others from former communist Eastern Europe had been accepted into the EU family – and it wasn't positive. The vote [felt] like a blow to many in a country that has moved very quickly to identify itself with the interests and values of Europe overall – even prompting the country's ambassador to the UK to ask Romanian media not to fan "collective hysteria" in its wake.
"People in Romania still feel like we are not treated as equals, and that is not really changing," says Cristian Barbu, a young insurance agent in Bucharest.
In Slovakia, too, enthusiasm for membership in the bloc has waned in the 12 succeeding years. And it has helped feed the rise of an extreme right wing, as The Christian Science Monitor's Sara Miller Llana noted in June:
But for all the concerns across the continent about a return to the intolerance of the 1930s, it is in the post-communist countries of the EU that many fear the risk is greatest, as public frustration has undermined the ideals that these countries subscribed to upon joining the bloc. And with an accused fascist party now sitting in Slovakia's parliament, the director of the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising Stanislav Mičev calls it "a crisis of moral values."
Not everywhere in Britain has the anti-immigrant feeling that helped power the Brexit campaign been so prevalent. As the Monitor wrote in June, the city of Leicester has gone from being a place known for calls to keep out foreigners to one held up as a model of a co-ethnic harmony:
"If modern British identity is people from lots of different backgrounds kind of rubbing along together without any serious issues, that is what Leicester tends to do," says Nick Carter, the former editor-in-chief of the Leicester Mercury newspaper. "It's not some kind of utopia. It has lots of challenges. But at the moment, the problems seem to be ones that communities tackle in a harmonious kind of way, rather than becoming divided by them."
Juncker’s speech comes ahead of a summit in Bratislava on Friday, where the 27 EU member states (minus Britain) are to discuss the future of the union.
This report contains material from Reuters.