4th Dec 2023

Barroso bows out before MEPs

  • Barroso (l) takes his leave: 'Auf wiedersehen, goodbye, au revoir, adieu' (Photo:

Jose Manuel Barroso made his valedictory speech in the European Parliament on Tuesday (21 October) following 10 years in office, but few MEPs turned up to listen and those who did gave him a mixed review.

Opting for a more off-the-cuff recap of his time as European Commission president rather than a formal speech, Barroso spoke for over half an hour listing what he considered his commission's greatest achievements.

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He said his most "emotional" moment was collecting the EU's Nobel peace prize and that he was "extremely proud" of pushing for an "ambitious" climate protection agenda for the EU.

Giving his speech entirely in English, rather than in his native Portuguese or his fluent French, Barroso gave short shrift to those criticising the state of the EU today saying "do not forget where we were".

He noted that since he took office in 2004, the EU overcame a constitutional crisis - the rejection of the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands - a sovereign debt crisis, and an economic crisis.

He said it was currently facing a geopolitical crisis as it grapples with a more belligerent Russia, whose behaviour towards Ukraine he characterised as "unacceptable".

He also highlighted that his commission was non partisan and worked for the EU as a whole, that it had overseen 40 pieces of law improving financial supervision, and that it had remained generous with its donations to global disasters despite the poor economic situation in the EU.

Focus on austerity

The outgoing president, whose post formally finishes at the end of next week (31 October), hit back at criticism that his commission was too fixed on austerity, saying this was a "caricature" and laid the blame for a lack of investment-focussed policies at national governments' doors.

His talk did not mention the EU's biggest ailment (its record unemployment) nor did it reflect on another commonly-raised criticism - that it has become alienated from its citizens

He finished his speech with a simple "Auf wiedersehen, goodbye, au revoir, adeus"

But while he and his 27 commissioners - most of whom were present in the room - received a standing ovation, there were comparatively few there to do it.

Fewer than 200 of the 751 deputies turned up to mark the end of the Barroso decade - and those who were there were reticent with their praise.

Manfred Weber, head of the centre-right EPP, Barroso's political family, acknowledged that MEPs would have liked to see a more "vehement" commission president but gave him a "positive" assessment.

His counterpart for the centre-left S&D, Gianni Pitella, said he was "sorry" that Barroso never spoke of the joblessness rate in the EU; while Pavel Telicka, from the liberals, said Barroso showed a "real lack of leadership" in office.

Philippe Lamberts, a Green MEP, noted that a quarter of Europeans are now at risk of poverty, saying this was "four percent more than five years ago".

British eurosceptic Nigel Farage thanked Barroso for wading into the UK's debate on EU membership and showing prime minister David Cameron that he, the commission president, is "boss" when it comes to deciding issues such as migration caps.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who as a plain MEP had many heated debates with Barroso said the Portuguese politician deserved "respect and acknowledgement" for his 10 years of public life devoted to the EU.

And with that, it was time for a quick few hand-shakes with MEPs before Barroso left the plenary.

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