28th Oct 2016

'Political science fiction' to become reality, Barroso says

The European Commission will set out its views on EU treaty change by early next year noting that ideas that now seem like "political science fiction" will eventually become reality.

The commission will put forward "explicit ideas for treaty change in order for them to be debated before the European elections," said president Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday (7 May).

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"We want to put all the elements on the table even if some of them may sound like political science fiction today. They will be reality in a few years' time, sooner than we might think," he told a conference on shaping economic and monetary union.

While EU powers have been greatly extended - new laws allow the commission to ask for changes to national budgets - a central finance ministry, a eurozone budget and some mutualisation of debt are all considered to be part of a future new-look eurozone.

Barroso underlined the importance of the importance EU citizens being aware of and approving the changes being made at the EU level.

"Europe will be open and democratic, or it will fail," he said.

The 'democracy' debate has come to the fore in recent months. Rapid policy-making - generally to give EU institutions more power - to stay ahead of the economic crisis has led to an unease that citizens' views are being bypassed.

This feeling is compounded in bailed-out countries - Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus - where spending priorities are in the hands of officials from the European Commission, European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, fall-out from the crisis - low growth and record levels of unemployment - have led to fears that populist or extremist parties will benefit, particularly during the European Parliament elections, when voters often feel less attached to the potential consequences of their ballot.

Barroso urged "mainstream" political parties not to "relinquish the momentum to eurosceptic or europhobic forces. You have to fight with rational arguments and unwavering convictions."

But a comment by Portuguese finance minister Vitor Gaspar showed the level of frustration, particularly in southern European countries, with the budget-cutting priorities of Brussels and Germany, the eurozone's most influential member state.

"We need the European Union to respect a fundamental principle - the principle of the primacy of the national dimension of politics. The European Union must allow its member states to deliver the social goods that their citizens demand," said Gaspar.

"We just have to look at the dramatic rise in youth unemployment, in particular in programme countries, to realise exactly what this plea means in practice."

Statistics for youth unemployment - 58% in Greece and 55% in Spain - have led analysts and politicians to speak of a "lost generation" of Europeans.

The issue is to be dealt at a June summit of EU leaders. On Monday the prime ministers of Spain and Italy urged the EU to adopt policies that would avoid social unrest. The two leaders said they would prepare a list of proposals - especially on youth employment - to be presented at the summit.

To date, there is a youth employment and training scheme that has to be fine-tuned by member states while a much heralded growth pact - signed off in June 2012 - amounted to little.

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