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Juncker urges EU to ‘catch the wind in our sails’

Reuters

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker addresses the European Parliament during a debate on The State of the European Union in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday.

Reuters STRASBOURG (Reuters) — European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker urged EU governments on Wednesday to take advantage of Brexit and an economic upswing to forge a tighter union at the heart of world trade.

In the EU’s equivalent of a U.S. president’s State of the Union address, Juncker pledged to wrap up trade talks with Mexico and Brazil and proposed limiting China’s ability to buy up European companies in infrastructure, hi-tech manufacturing and energy.

A veteran of dealmaking through decades of fractious European Union politics, Juncker said he had often despaired at the bloc. But he saw it now bouncing back, a decade after the global financial meltdown and ensuing eurozone crisis.

“The wind is back in Europe’s sails,” Junker told the European Parliament, citing recent faster economic growth than the United States.

“Now we have a window of opportunity, but it will not stay open forever. Let us make the most of the moment: catch the wind in our sails.”

Saying he regretted Britain’s decision to leave the bloc in March 2019, Juncker called for the EU, the world’s biggest trading bloc, to forge ahead with free trade deals as the United States under President Donald Trump takes a more insular turn.

“We will keep moving on because Brexit isn’t everything, it is not the future of Europe,” he said.

Following a July agreement for an EU trade deal with Japan, Juncker said the commission — the bloc’s executive arm — would now open free-trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand.

It would aim to conclude talks with Mexico and the South American trading bloc Mercosur, led by Brazil and Argentina, by the end of the year.

But he warned that the EU was not “naive,” and proposed a so-called investment screening framework to address concerns about a surge of Chinese takeovers in the bloc.

“We are not naive free traders. Europe will defend its strategic interests with an EU framework for investment screening,” he said, enlarging on a position that is strongly backed by France but likely to irritate Beijing.

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