• Commission President Jose Barroso launched an impassioned attack on British eurosceptics (Photo: European Commission)

Barroso condemns British "delight" at euro crisis

04.07.12 @ 07:57

  1. By Benjamin Fox
  2. Benjamin email

BRUSSELS - European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso Tuesday (3 July) launched an angry attack on British Conservative's in the European Parliament, accusing them of "taking delight" in the eurozone debt crisis.

"Let me just put the facts straight. The country by far that has been spending money with the banking sector is Britain," he said citing the Conservatives' disapproval of the "big bailout programmes in the banking sector in the euro area."

Barroso's outburst in Strasbourg followed a speech by Tory MEP Martin Callanan, who heads the eurosceptic ECR group, claiming that that the eurozone should "reduce in size so that some countries have the ability to devalue their way back to relative competitiveness."

Callanan, who represents the more eurosceptic wing of his party, has repeatedly called for Greece to be allowed to leave the EU.

President Barroso said he was "puzzled" that British eurosceptics were encouraging countries to leave the euro adding that this was "in stark contrast" to statements made by UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

Although Cameron vetoed integrating the fiscal compact into the EU treaties in December after failing to secure opt-outs for the City of London from EU financial regulation, both he and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, have voiced support for closer integration of the eurozone, including common Eurobonds.

The heated exchanges came at the end of a debate with MEPs and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy on last week's emergency EU Council summit.

The two-day summit saw EU leaders reach a tentative agreement to allow the new EU bail-out fund, the European Stability Mechanism, to directly recapitalise banks, and to give the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank sweeping powers to regulate the European banking sector.

Despite this, MEPs called for more decisive steps to tackle the debt crisis.

However, the debate was overshadowed by the latest controversy on Britain's status in the EU, which is likely to add to the strain on the fragile governing coalition in Westminster.

The Conservatives' coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, whose MEP delegation sits in Verhofstadt's group, have been regarded as the most pro-European British party. Meanwhile, Clegg, who was an MEP for six years before entering the House of Commons in 2005, had publicly supported Britain joining the euro.

Cameron is coming under increasing pressure from backbench Tory MPs in London to promise a referendum on the EU. Last week, a group of 100 Conservative MPs signed a letter demanding re-negotiation of Britain's EU membership, while a growing number of eurosceptics regard the eurozone crisis as an opportunity to engineer British withdrawal from the 27 member bloc.

Opt-outs from the social chapter and EU employment legislation, as well as justice and home affairs policy, are likely to top Conservative demands in any attempt to re-negotiate. However, Cameron is anxious to avoid a straight in/out referendum.