12:00 AM, September 13, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 13, 2018

Time for Europe has come

Juncker urges EU to go for greater role in world affairs as US retreats

The European Union must flex its muscles as a world power, EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday, as he spoke critically of US President Donald Trump's retreat from international engagement.

In his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Juncker, who is entering his final year as president of the European Commission, urged EU states to rein in angry divisions over budgets, immigration and other issues in order to capitalise on a chance to shape the world.

“Whenever Europe speaks as one, we can impose our position on others," Juncker said, arguing that a deal he struck in July with Trump to stall a transatlantic tariff war and which won plaudits for the Commission should have come as no surprise. "The geopolitical situation makes this Europe's hour: the time for European sovereignty has come," he said.

Juncker made no direct comment on Trump or US policy but aides said the geopolitical situation he spoke of was a US retreat into what Juncker described elsewhere in the speech as "selfish unilateralism". He also saw new opportunities to work with China, Japan and others to develop "multilateral" rules.

In repeating his support for deeper economic integration, he also pushed the idea that the euro should challenge the dollar as the world's leading currency, calling it "absurd" that the EU pays for most of its energy in the US currency despite buying it mainly from the likes of Russia and the Gulf states.

Without naming Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban -- whose government faced an unprecedented vote yesterday to launch suspension proceedings from the EU -- Juncker blasted EU leaders who sought to undermine democracy and the rule of law.

At the same time, the Commission put forward a plan to get even tougher on illegal economic migrants whose arrival has so angered Orban and others.

As the centenary nears of the end of World War One, he recalled how Europeans were taken totally by surprise by its outbreak and urged more respect for the EU as a force for peace against nationalistic "poison and deceit".