“Where was the European Commission during the crises of the past year?” asked Martin Schulz, Socialist and Democrat Leader in the European Parliament following Jose-Manuel Barroso’s “State of the Union” address.
Schulz is indeed right. What did the European Commission do about bankers’ bonuses at the beginning of the world economic crisis and what have they ever done in real terms to reduce the gap between the have and the have nots?
The debate, while wide ranging, was ultimately unsatisfying, largely because it was nearly all theory and very little about practical politics. More of a manifesto than a report on last year’s activities, European Commission President Barroso’s address, though upbeat, was curiously lightweight.
Barroso, of course, pressed all the right buttons, but as Martin Schulz pointed out, failed to expand or deal with any of the real issues. The European Union, in particular the European Commission, really needs to get out of its wishful thinking mode. As Martin Schulz said, Mr Barroso and his Commission nearly always cave into to the Franco/German alliance which is effectively in control of the Council of Ministers.
In fact, there is a real divergence between the aspiration of the European Council/Council of Minister and the European Commission. While Martin Schulz disparages what he terms increasing intergovernmentalism, I think we should view this from another perspective.
Following enlargement of the European Union in 2004, not to mention the opposition to further EU integration from some other Member States, the vision of further European integration is, I believe, profoundly unrealistic. But it’s a vision which has legs with the Leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, Joseph Daul from France, stating in his response to Barroso that people need “more Europe”.
To be fair to Mr Barroso he did not quite give us that. It was, in effect, a shopping list with no really coherent political basis. He talked, amongst other things, about the need for a functioning European single market, support for universities and lifelong learning, a European patent, energy security, climate change and creating green jobs and a global role for the European Union.
I have to admit, there was little I disagreed with. Martin Schulz was again right when he called it a state of the union address for all people.
However, while Barroso’s strong condemnation of racism and xenophobia was admirable, he failed to mention President Sarkozy’s expulsion of the Roma. Not exactly the approach we would expect of a serious political leader.
It’s hardly surprising that there were those who thought MEPs may not be in the Chamber to hear Mr Barroso. The quality and content of his speech were more about boosting his profile than tackling the serious issues currently facing Europe. However, the bribe to dock money from those MEPs who did not attend was extremely undignified and ultimately had to be withdrawn. Yet many were, in fact, present. It’s a shame they were not regarded sufficiently to be given a speech of substance and, dare I say, vision.