03/10/2011 José Manuel Barroso : "Certain forms of intergovernmentalism could be the death of the united Europe we wish for"

José Manuel Barroso showed federalist leanings in his recent State of the Union address in Strasbourg. The European Commission President was in top form and made a bold move towards the community method when speaking before MEPs this morning. Did he manage to convince the Parliament ? Let’s take a look at the highlights.

Barroso the federalist ?

Several opposition MEPs were waiting to catch him out criticising the Commission’s lack of action and political weight in its efforts to get Europe out of the crisis.

He was full of self-assurance when he spoke this morning in front of a full parliament. “This crisis is financial, economic and social. But it is also a crisis of confidence [...]We are facing the biggest challenge in the history of our Union”, he stated in his introduction.

The Commission President chose to begin his speech by discussing the issue that is of most concern to Europeans – the crisis. He went on to say that the causes of the crisis were clear, “Europe has not met the challenges of competitiveness. Some of our Member States have lived beyond their means. Some behaviours in the financial markets have been irresponsible and inadmissible. We have allowed imbalances between our Member States to grow, particularly in the euro area.”

Yet even though he recognises the gravity of the situation, Mr. Barroso was at pains to point out that “there are solutions to the crisis [...] and to restore confidence we need stability and growth. But also political will, political leadership. Together we must propose to our citizens a European renewal”, he said.

In order for this to be achieved, he believes discipline is needed along with solidarity but what is most needed is integration. “If we do not integrate further, we risk fragmentation”, he said calling for a return to the community method and noting the failure of the intergovernmental approach.

In continuing to fight the debt crisis, he stated again that “Greece is, and will remain, a member of the euro area [but] must implement its commitments in full and on time.” In return, the Commission is working on a programme to promote Greek SMEs and also on a guarantee mechanism for banks to enable them to remain part of the real economy.

Beyond the debt crisis, José Manuel Barroso reminded the audience of the importance of establishing proper economic governance in the EU. “It is also time to have unified external representation of the euro area [...] the Commission will make proposals for this purpose, he stated, reaffirming his idea that it is an “[...] illusion that we can have a common currency and a single market with an intergovernmental approach.”

On other points, José Manuel Barroso repeated his belief in the importance of free circulation within the Union although there is a need to reform the Schengen Area. He also called for effective implementation through all the Member States of services liberalisation. Furthermore, he said that “reforms to our labour markets, public finances and pension systems require a major effort from all parts of society.”

He was convincing but...

On the day before the speech, José Manuel Barroso told some privileged journalists that “they are going to like my speech”. In fact, the speech was indeed quite well received by Parliament. First to speak after Mr. Barroso was Joseph Daul, President of the EPP group, who congratulated the Commission President and said “We want action and courageous proposals”.

Martin Schulz for the S&D group believes that Europe is experiencing a “crisis of management and leadership”. He went on to say that “what we don't need is diplomacy between the capitals.” The intergovernmental approach was also criticised by Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE) who proposed creating a European minister for finance within the Commission.

Not everybody was in agreement with this new transfer of powers to the Union. ECR group member, Jan Zahradil, stated that a financial transaction tax would cause the financial industry to flee Europe and he also said that the Euro was adopted by economies that were too disparate. Britain’s Nigel Farage (EFD) unsurprisingly defended national sovereignty over integration. The reaction from Parliament’s eurosceptics was entirely as expected.

Rebecca Harms spoke on behalf of the Greens/EFA group when she called for education, training and sustainable economic growth to be prioritised. She believes that the economic governance package is a good first step but that it lacks balance between stability and growth.

After Mr. Barroso's speech, we asked some MEPs to give us their reactions. Here's what they said.

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