Europe must become a "global player" with a muscular foreign policy to match its economic strength, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker urged Wednesday, in his annual address to the bloc’s parliament.
Mr Juncker used his State of the EU speech to the Strasbourg body to call for Europe to stand up for the international order in the face of "trade and currency wars", in a swipe at US President Donald Trump’s "America First" approach.
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Europe’s ability to take strong diplomatic action is often hampered by the need to get agreement from all 28 member countries so, in a bid to simplify the process, Juncker announced plans to abolish the need for unanimity on some foreign policy issues.
With Brussels and Washington at loggerheads on a host of major issues from trade tariffs to the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, Mr Juncker said it was time for Europe to play a more influential role on the world stage.
"We must become a greater global actor," the head of the EU executive told lawmakers in French, before switching to English to add: "Yes we are global payers, but we have to be global players too."
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The EU must do more to push the euro as a world currency, Mr Juncker said, questioning why Europe pays 80 percent of its energy bills in dollars when only two percent of energy imports come from the United States.
Boosting the role of the euro as a reserve currency would also boost Brussels’ diplomatic power by creating a means of skirting US sanctions that it disagrees with, such as those slapped back on Tehran by Mr Trump when he pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year in the face of bitter European opposition.
A European diplomat said in advance of the speech that Mr Juncker knows it is a "critical" moment to prepare Europe for a world in which Mr Trump’s United States is an unpredictable foreign policy friend and a protectionist trade rival.
Mr Juncker urge the EU to strike a "new alliance" with Africa that would create millions of jobs and include a free trade deal – a move Brussels hopes would both showcase its international influence and help to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.