HE was supposed to be describing the State of the Union. Instead Jean-Claude Juncker chose to predict it.

The EU Commission president’s set-piece annual report to the European Parliament - modelled on that of American leaders - was his own personal take on the bloc’s future. But it is not one - necessarily - that everyone wants to see.

The former Luxembourg premier - a veteran of the tough negotiations that shaped the current EU - will be well aware of this. A true believer in the European project, he makes it clear there are always setbacks and disagreements and compromises. Reaching consensus, after all, means not always exactly what you want.

Loading article content

“I have always fought for Europe,” he told MEPs in what observers said was an uncharacteristically passionate speech. “At times I have suffered with and because of Europe and even despaired for it.

Through thick and thin, I have never lost my love of Europe. But there is rarely love without pain.”

Mr Juncker barely spoke of Brexit in his hour-long address. But the UK quitting the bloc must surely be one cause of the pain he cites. Last year’s vote and the reality of an exit will all come during his period in office. This, reckons Kirsty Hughes, director of the Scottish Centre for European Relations, must be the context of his remarks.

She said: “He wants more of a legacy than being the ‘Brexit president’ but essentially that is what he will be.

“He is is right that there is now a chance for the EU to move ahead in a more positive way...despite Poland, Hungary and problems with migration.”

This is the irony of British Eurosceptism: it could be the midwife of the greater EU integration that it wished to counter. Mr Juncker received a warm welcome for his calls for a united transnational approach to problems like terrorism, climate change and migration.

He even ticked off those countries such as Britain, Hungary and Slovakia - though not by name - which offered little help with last year’s refugee crisis. Migrants are still making the perilous crossing from Africa and the Middle East to Greece and Italy. But numbers are down, by respectively 97 per cent and 81 per cent, he said.

That human tide - and general angst over immigration - helped fuel British populist xenophobia during last year’s Brexit vote.

Mr Juncker came very close to talking about a Europe not just as a single market but as a entity with a single border and a single currency, overseen by an EU administration with a single president and powerful economy minister. His words will no doubt spark headlines about a United States of Europe in the Eurosceptic London tabloids. This is unfair. First, because that is not what Mr Juncker is proposing and, second, because he is unlikely to get his way on everything. Scottish UKIP MEP David Cockburn just shook his head when leaving the great hemisphere of the European Parliament after hearing the speech: “It’s terrifying,” he said.

Without Britain, though, one of the great drags on closer integration has been removed. A day may come, sooner or later, when the UK - or an independent Scotland - wants to rejoin the EU. Obviously, that will not be quite the same EU as it is today, whether Mr Juncker has his way or not. And, again, obviously, Britons and Scots will have had no part to play in shaping the new Europe.