The European Union faces long-term economic decline and the “love affair” of integration is at risk, Jean Claude-Juncker has said in a downbeat assessment of the bloc’s future.
“Economically, we see the end of Europe’s glorious years compared with what others are doing,” the president of the European Commission said.
The “dream” of a unified continent is at risk from “fissures and fractures” of national divisions and separatist movements, he said.
“The European Union is not going very well,” Mr Juncker said. “And so we must ensure that we keep alive the ambitions, hopes and dreams of Europe.”
The EU’s share of global output is falling and will soon represent just 15 per cent of worldwide gross domestic product, while 80 per cent of growth is emerging from countries outside the European Union, he said.
David Cameron has pointed to the risk of European decline to push for more ambitious trade deals with the US and Far East, and the removal of national barriers in services and digital technologies, as part of his renegotiation drive.
Others in Brussels argue the cure for economic malaise is radical economic integration to a degree that Britain would never tolerate.
The prospect of demographic, and therefore economic, decline has persuaded some European officials that the refugee crisis is a blessing in disguise.
Mr Juncker likened the European project to the vale of tears, the Biblical term for the sorrows of life on earth.
“When I’m on another continent, I see eyes shine when those I visit talk about Europe. And when I return to Brussels or Luxembourg, I find myself in a valley of fears, a valle Lacrimarum. We do not know who we are, and we are not proud of the solid achievements of our predecessors.”
In a separate speech to the European People’s Party, Mr Juncker said he would focus on ‘social Europe’ – that is, employment rights – to win the support of “simple” people.
“We can’t lose the people who always believed in us, the simple people who work, who aren’t any less intelligent than the elites. They’ve always supported Europe and it is about reconquering their heart.”
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Frans Timmermans, Mr Juncker’s deputy, warned of a crisis of support for the EU.
“What was unimaginable before now becomes imaginable, namely the disintegration of the European project,” he told the Friends of Europe forum in Brussels. “The European ideals still have very strong support among the population across Europe. What do not have strong support are European politicians and European politics.”