STRASBOURG, France (AFP) ― Jean-Claude Juncker, the next head of the EU commission, faced down jeers by British euroskeptics on Tuesday as he argued that the euro was a blessing for Europe and called for more spending to spark growth.
Juncker, a former Luxembourg premier and veteran EU insider, was speaking shortly before European Parliament vote that confirmed him as the leader of the EU’s powerful executive.
“The single currency does not divide Europe, it protects Europe,” Juncker said in his speech to the parliament, where euroskeptics won more seats than ever in May elections.
The era of “monetary war” and demeaning devaluations was over, Juncker said in his defense of the single currency whose very survival was thrown into doubt during the worst days of the debt crisis.
But euroskeptics responded angrily to Juncker’s advocacy of the euro.
“Rubbish!” cried out an MEP from UKIP, the party that came out on top in Britain during the European elections, drawing a call to order by parliament President Martin Schulz.
In his tribute to the single currency, Juncker argued for better governance and an end to the “ridiculous” contradiction of being one of the strongest global currencies yet represented by leaders with often contradicting views.
“We had to repair a burning plane in mid-flight,” Junker said of the eurozone debt crisis in which he played a key role as head of the Eurogroup.
“We made mistakes,” he said. “Repairing a plane in flight is not easy, sometimes we burn our fingers.”
In trying to drum up as many parliament votes as possible, particularly from lukewarm social-democrats, the conservative Juncker called for a 300 billion euro ($409 billion) investment plan for Europe.
“We need a program to enhance growth and competitiveness,” Juncker said as he called for a massive three-year investment program to revitalize and re-industrialize the European Union.
He said this could be done through infrastructure projects and especially by encouraging national operators to work towards a continent-wide high-speed Internet network and by rationalizing the EU’s fragmented energy grid.
The EU must use all the tools available to “spend more wisely, in a more focused manner, and with less regulation and more flexibility in how the money is used,” he said.
Juncker also called for a more democratic “troika,” the often controversial partnership of the EU, IMF and European Central Bank that oversaw massive debt bailouts in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus.
A new version of the troika would be more accountable for its actions with the social consequences of decisions also part of its work, he said.
“There is a 29th member of the EU emerging, the state of those without jobs,” Juncker warned.
“I would like this 29th member to be integrated with the others, and I propose an ambitious investment program to do that,” he said.
“I am for a social market economy, the good of all.”