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16th Apr 2021

Barroso-II team rated as 'average or below' in its first year

  • Parliament gave its final approval to the college of commissioners on 9 February last year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has defended his team's performance one year into his second term after a turbulent 12 months dominated by the eurozone debt crisis and the establishment of the EU's new Lisbon Treaty architecture. But a new survey suggests EU insiders are far from impressed with the Barroso-II track record as it currently stands.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday evening (9 February), Mr Barroso said the financial and economic crisis had subjected the Lisbon Treaty to an immediate "stress test", acknowledging that member states had at times opted to co-operate amongst themselves, rather than exploit the full capacities of his EU institution.

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A European rescue fund agreed last May was primarily 'intergovernmental' in nature, as have been recent Franco-German plans to boost EU competitiveness, while a new system of financial supervisory agencies were clearly 'communautaire' in nature, he noted.

Critics have charged Mr Barroso and his team with being slow to come forward with new initiatives. "The lack of such proposals can only lead to certain member states believing they are better off going it alone," Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European Parliament's Liberal group, wrote to Mr Barroso on the eve of the commission's one-year anniversary.

A recently-conducted online survey also concluded there was significant room for improvement from the 27-person team, with 62 percent of respondents saying the commission's overall performance was average or below par.

"The Barroso-II team must do better, with considerably more effort," David Earnshaw, chief executive of the Brussels office of multinational lobby outfit Burson-Marsteller, which conducted the study, said on Wednesday while presenting the results.

Individual commissioners were rated according to their 'overall performance' and 'achievement of commitments' by the 324 survey respondents, 25 percent of which identified themselves as 'EU officials'.

Mr Barroso scored an overall 'grade' of 'C+', with a 'D' for commitments. "He's a skillful communicator in many languages ... so he ought to be having more impact. The fact that he isn't shows some of the weaknesses of the man, he doesn't encourage his team to get ahead of the curve," said John Wyles, an advisor to the European Policy Centre think-tank.

EU high representative Catherine Ashton came last on the list with an 'E' in both categories, while her female colleagues justice commissioner Viviane Reding and digital agenda Neelie Kroes topped the poll with 'Bs'.

Criticised for selecting a weak team of officials to support her, speakers at the survey's publication generally agreed however that Ms Ashton's 'double-hatted' job of attending commission meetings and criss-crossing the globe as the EU's top diplomat was simply impossible.

"I think Ashton will probably end this commission as its sacrificial lamb, but even a titan would have had problems," said Mr Wyles.

Public confrontations were considered to have helped Ms Reding's and Ms Kroes' ratings, the former battling with France last year over the government's expulsion of members of its Roma ethnic minority, and the latter with the Hungarian government over its controversial media law.

Supporters of the justice commissioner were quick to jump on the survey's results. "I think it shows that someone from a small member state can make a difference," an official close to Ms Reding told this website in an unsolicited telephone call.

"What people want out of the commission is leadership," crowed the official, pointing to her track record of achievements which includes the setting up of a single area of justice in the EU and initiatives on data protection.

They noted that Ms Reding had a "direct style" and how "Barroso's is different", but refused to be drawn on what the justice commissioner's ambitions for the future might be.

Economy commissioner Olli Rehn and internal market commissioner Michel Barnier both also performed well with an overall 'B', as did competition commissioner Joaquin Almunia with a 'B+'. Humanitarian aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva gained a 'B-', while the rest of their colleagues largely received 'Cs'.

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