By Alastair Macdonald
The European Union should flex its potential strength as a world power as the United States under President Donald Trump pulls back from international engagement, EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker is expected to say on Wednesday.
An EU official familiar with the European Commission president's annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg said a key theme would be "sovereignty," or Europe's collective ability to shape world policy.
"Juncker wants the EU to punch above, not below, its weight," the official said.
With the EU still wounded by Britain's imminent withdrawal, rising nationalism elsewhere and feuding over immigration and democratic values with right-wing eastern leaders like Hungary's Viktor Orban, Juncker will insist the bloc is more united than it may seem and can use that to shape the world to its tastes.
As he begins a final year in office that will see Europeans elect a new EU legislature in May, the veteran former premier of Luxembourg may refer to his successful bid to talk Trump out of an immediate tariff war in July and highlight new interest from China in working with Brussels to keep world trade flowing free.
Pointing to questions in many countries over Washington's role as the global economic leader, Juncker may also say the euro should be better promoted as a world currency, querying why EU energy imports, for example, are mostly priced in dollars when almost none of them come from the United States.
He will call for a full completion of an EU trade pact with Japan by May, one of several deals that is consolidating the EU at the heart of a web of global agreements on standards as Trump has turned Washington against multilateral obligations. And a future EU-Africa free trade area could even get a mention.
Africa should be helped with trade and investment rather than rely on aid, Juncker will say, while also proposing to beef up Europe's defenses against poor Africans heading north. He wants to create a fully Brussels-run European Border and Coast Guard with a full-time strength of 10,000 to help keep back economic migrants whose arrival has fueled anti-EU nationalism.
Worries over how far hostile parties within and outside the European Union might try to manipulate the EU elections also lie behind a proposal to impose fines on politicians caught cheating on data protection rules and to beef up oversight of campaigning.
Juncker's legislative proposals will face scrutiny in Parliament and from member states, with some of the latter wary of a plan to scrap their veto over some areas of foreign policy in an effort to give the EU a nimbler actor in global diplomacy.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr; Editing by Leslie Adler)