The president of the European Commission called on Europe to “stand up” to conservatives during a speech at the opening session of the European Week of Regions and Cities.
According to Juncker there is a difference between Eurosceptics and populists. “We must respect Eurosceptics, who nourish a certain skepticism towards Europe, and that must fuel a debate”.
“They are not the same thing. We must obstruct this march towards a non-Europe inspired by stupid populists and limited nationalists,” he said.
The rise of sovereignty movements is likely to shape the EU’s agenda ahead of the European elections in May 2019 and might affect budget negotiations for the next seven years, he warned.
Juncker insisted in front of hundreds of regional and local representatives gathered in Brussels on the need to distinguish between “those Eurosceptics who have questions to ask and opinions to make and the stupid populists”.
“In Europe, there is an increasing number of Eurosceptics and they tend to be promoting Eurosceptical opinions. We should talk to them,” Juncker said. “We cannot build Europe against the nations and the regions,” he insisted.
In Brussels there is alarm as Italy inches towards becoming the first EU founding member to have a deeply euro-sceptic government. “Europe is not just Brussels and Strasbourg but every city and region,” Juncker said.
He stressed that some problems in Europe, such as “climate change”, are not limited by borders and member states and therefore cities and regions are key.
“Without cooperation and cohesion nothing will be possible in Europe,” he added.
Commissioner for Regional Policy Corina Crețu urged members to stick together. “Cohesion policy is much more than investment, cohesion policy is solidarity,” she insisted.
Last year, the Commission set up a task-force to make recommendations on subsidiarity, in order to identify policy areas where the EU could involve regional and local authorities in policy making. Juncker said that by November this year, the Commission could have some actual results to share.
Some member states, including current holder of the rotating presidency of the EU Austria have been particularly demanding.
According to Juncker, he has “the impression that when we say subsidiarity we say ‘unsolidarity’. Subsidiarity can not go against solidarity”.
Some member states do not have the means to sustain projects such as Galileo, negotiations with African partners to reduce migration flows or the fight against climate change.