The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, called the bloc to deepen its economic ties around the world, from Asia Pacific to Latin America, with the ambition to promote free trade in the wake of President Donald Trump’s “American First” policies. Inspired by an uptick in pro-European sentiment following a decade of numerous crises, President Juncker outlined his vision of a bigger and a more cohesive union that would play a bigger role in the world.
“Europe has always been an attractive economic space,” he said in his annual State of the European Union address at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. “But since last year, I see that our partners all over the world are knocking at our door in order to sign trade agreements with us.” Mr. Juncker proposed starting free trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand and urged to complete a number of FTAs by late 2019 when his mandate ends. In his opinion, the bloc is well poised to strike a deal with Mexico and other South American countries by the end of this year as Brussels is in talks with Mexico City to update a 17-year old free trade accord with Mexico and finalize its first deal with the regional grouping Mercosur.
Mr. Juncker also outlined a vision to bolster the EU’s trade defenses, for example by screening foreign investments – a policy aimed to protect European assets and businesses from acquisition. The EU’s core economies, Germany, France and Italy, have lobbied for increasing these defenses but ran into opposition from other member states. “We are not naive supporters of free exchange; Europe has always got to defend its strategic interests,” Mr. Juncker explained. “Europe is open to trade, yes, but there has to be reciprocity.”