The State of the Union debate in the European Parliament, 2020

Briefing 11-09-2020

The State of the Union address of 2020 will be delivered at a time when the coronavirus pandemic continues to create challenges for the European Union and its Member States. At the same time, the the next multiannual financial framework (MFF), the EU's long-term budget, is yet to be agreed. Unresolved challenges also include ensuring respect for EU values (Article 2 TEU) in the Member States, addressing the threat of climate change, and ensuring Europe is fit for the digital age. The tradition of EU State of the Union addresses, delivered by the President of the European Commission before the European Parliament, dates back to 2010. The address takes stock of the achievements of the past year and presents the priorities for the year ahead. The State of the Union speech constitutes an important instrument for the European Commission's ex-ante accountability vis-à-vis Parliament. It is also aimed at rendering the definition of priorities at EU level more transparent, and at communicating those priorities to citizens. It resembles similar speeches in national democracies. The United States of America, for instance, has a long-standing tradition of presidential State of the Union addresses, in which the President speaks in the Capitol to a joint session of Congress, thus fulfilling his constitutional obligation. By contrast to the US Constitution, the EU Treaties do not prescribe the State of the Union address, which was instigated with the 2010 Framework Agreement between Parliament and the Commission. Former Commission Presidents José Manuel Barroso (2010 to 2013, marked mainly by the economic and financial crisis) and President Jean Claude Juncker each gave four State of the Union speeches. In his 2015 address, Jean Claude Juncker presented new proposals on migration, external action, and economic and fiscal policy. In 2016, he announced new initiatives to invest in Europe's young people, jobseekers and start-ups, to expand public access to wifi, and make fairer copyright laws. In 2017, he proposed a roadmap for a more united, stronger and more democratic union. In his final speech in 2018, he called for a more sovereign Europe that allows its nations to be global players, setting out proposals on migration, cybersecurity and foreign policy. This briefing further updates an earlier one, from September 2016, originally written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva.