Juncker said the "wind is back in Europe's sails" after last year's shock Brexit vote, an act he warned Britain would regret.

European Commission President Juncker addresses the European Parliament during a debate on The State of the European Union in Strasbourg
European Commission President Juncker addresses the European Parliament during a debate on The State of the European Union in Strasbourg

The European Union is in a healthier economic state than it's been for more than a decade and is ready to move on from Brexit, the bloc's top official said Wednesday.

Addressing lawmakers at the European Parliament, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU is "bouncing back" after a tough decade that's seen much of the 28-country bloc mired in an economic crisis and Britain vote to leave.

"The wind is back in Europe's sail," he said in an upbeat hour-long annual "State of the European Union" address in Strasbourg, France.

Juncker, whose Commission proposes EU legislation and polices the bloc's laws, said the EU is into its fifth year of economic recovery, with unemployment at a nine-year low.

"Let us make the most of the momentum, catch the wind in our sails," he said. 

"Europe can deliver for its citizens where and when it matters."

Eurozone integration

Since the global financial crisis first bared its teeth a decade ago, the EU project has been dealt a series of blows, most notably with Britain's decision last year to leave. It's also had to contend with a series of currencies afflicting the countries, currently 19, that use the euro as their currency. However, the euro zone crisis appears to have abated somewhat and Greece is set to end its bailout era next summer.

Juncker stated the need for a European minister of economy and finance to promote structural reform in member states, and emphasised the need for a strong euro zone budget line within the existing EU budget, as opposed to a separate budget.

Brexit and Turkey

With Britain due to leave the EU in March 2019, Juncker vowed that the bloc would take on no new members in the short-term, and ruled out membership for Turkey in the foreseeable future. 

TRT World’s Sarah Morris reports from London.

After attending a conference on Turkey, UK and the future of Europe at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House in London, Turkish Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, Omer Celik responded to Juncker’s statement and emphasised that the Brussels and Ankara needed to work together for any future rapprochement.

As the Union comes to terms with losing one of its biggest member states, Juncker called for EU leaders to meet in Romania the day after Britain leaves on March 29, 2019 to chart the bloc's way forward as 27 member states.

Juncker said the meeting should be held in the city of Sibiu, some 280 kilometres (175 miles) northwest of the capital Bucharest, on March 30.

Juncker vowed that the EU "will move forward once Britain leaves," saying that "Brexit is not everything. It's not the future of Europe." To cheering British lawmakers celebrating the country's departure, Juncker said: "I think you will regret it quite soon."

Immigration and security

With the EU under fire for policies perceived to be blocking migrants in dangerous detention centres in Libya, Juncker said, "Europe has got a collective responsibility" to help improve conditions there.

He told lawmakers that the EU must work closely with the UN's refugee agency to ensure that this "scandalous situation" does not continue. 

In order for the European Union to continue upholding its values, according to Juncker, it must also be a safe haven for those who are persecuted. 

Juncker stated that he does not see a time in the future where asylum seekers will be turned away. However, he also underscored the importance of reducing economic migrants, as opposed to asylum seekers and refugees. 

Juncker also said he will propose the establishment of a pan-European cybersecurity agency as online attacks around the world mount."

Cyber-attacks are sometimes more dangerous for the stability of democracies and economies than guns and tanks," he said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies