Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

EU has survived economic crisis, Barroso says in first State of Union address

  • Mr Barroso in Strasbourg on Tuesday indicated that the worst of the crisis has passed in an upbeat, presidential-type speech (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in a major speech on Tuesday morning said the EU has survived the economic crisis.

"Over the last year, the economic and financial crisis has put our Union before one of its greatest challenges ever ... As I look back at how we have reacted, I believe that we have withstood the test," Mr Barroso told MEPs in his first ever so-called State of the Union address. "Those who predicted the demise of the European Union were proved wrong."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

His remarks come after a threat of sovereign default by eurozone countries such as Greece and Spain threatened to pull apart the single currency in a potentially deadly blow to the 50-year-old European project.

Noting that "our work is not finished," the Portuguese politician put the EU's economic future at the top of his five-point agenda.

He defended the commission's push to regulate EU countries' debt levels despite rising social tension in countries such as Greece, which has seen an outbreak of violent street protests in reaction to EU-and-IMF-imposed cutbacks.

"Unsustainable budgets make us vulnerable. Debt and deficit lead to boom and bust. And they unravel the social safety net. Money that is spent on servicing debt is money that cannot be spent on the social good," he said.

He spoke up for an "ambitious" future budget, saying: "The EU budget is not for Brussels - it is for the people that you represent ... a euro spent at European level gets you more than a euro spent at national level."

With the commission to shortly publish ideas on how to raise extra EU money by, for example, directly taxing financial transactions, the commission chief attacked the culture of "pessimism" and Brussels nay-saying in some EU capitals: "I find it extraordinary that some are already rejecting them [the new budget ideas], without even knowing what they will be."

He set out a shopping list of upcoming economic initiatives.

He said Brussels will propose launching "EU project bonds" together with the European Investment Bank to help finance new infrastructure. He promised an "ambitious Single Market Act" to cut red tape for small businesses, liberalise the energy sector and boost "green collar" jobs.

He said the commission will attack risk-generating financial practices such as big bonuses, credit default swaps and naked short selling. He also promised to overhaul the "byzantine" complexity of the EU budget, in which countries give money with one hand and take it away with another, and to move to a 10-year budgeting period instead of the current seven.

In a message pregnant with references to EU values, Mr Barroso took a swipe at France's controversial policy of expelling Roma.

Without naming Paris, Mr Barroso said, to loud applause: "Everyone in Europe must respect the law, and the governments must respect human rights, including those of minorities. Racism and xenophobia have no place in Europe."

He also lashed out at Iran over the case of a woman sentenced to death for adultery: "I am appalled when I hear that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is sentenced to death by stoning. This is barbaric beyond words."

European Parliament officials tweeted during the speech that around 600 MEPs attended the event despite earlier dropping plans to fine deputies who skipped it.

Mr Barroso's call for EU countries to support the EU's new foreign relations chief, Catherine Ashton, and her diplomatic service in order to give the EU more clout on the world stage was echoed in the plenary debate following the address.

Senior MEPs began by criticising Ms Ashton for not going to the launch of Middle East peace talks in Washington last week, however. Joseph Daul, the French leader of the centre-right European People's Party did not name the British baroness, but said: "How can we justify that we are not present at the [negotiating] table?"

The leader of the Liberal group, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, chided her for not attending the Barroso speech. "It would be better if she were here," he said.

The State of the Union address, which recalls the US President's annual speech to the houses of Congress, is to be repeated every year.

Coming in the wake of the Lisbon Treaty, which is seen by eurosceptic politicians, such as British Conservative MEP Timothy Kirkhope, as a "step towards [an EU] superstate," Mr Barroso's presidential speech has also raised the question of who is the new top man in the Brussels hierarchy.

"I thought Van Rompuy was the President of the EU," a Brussels-based diplomat from one non-EU country told this website, referring to the Belgian President of the European Council.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

Interview

The Armenia-Azerbaijan war: A refugee's story

The lynching of a woman in the Soviet Union in 1988 gives insight into why reconciliation remains so hard in the 30-year long war on Europe's eastern fringe.

Greece and creditors break bailout deadlock

Athens agreed on budget cuts worth up to €3.6 billion and extracted some concessions from creditors, but the IMF warned the package might not be enough.

French police raid Le Pen's party office

Officers raid the National Front headquarters near Paris over allegations that leader Marine Le Pen used fake EU parliament contracts to pay her personal staff.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  2. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  3. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive
  4. Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes
  5. German nationalist leader met with Putin allies in Moscow
  6. German housing market overheated, says Bundesbank
  7. France invites three EU leaders for Versailles summit in March
  8. Greece agrees on new bailout reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  2. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  3. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  4. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  8. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  9. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  10. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  11. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  12. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"

Latest News

  1. Should Europeans spend more on defence?
  2. Dieselgate: EU disappointed with VW's treatment of customers
  3. French police raid Le Pen's party office
  4. The Armenia-Azerbaijan war: A refugee's story
  5. Greece and creditors break bailout deadlock
  6. Internal EU report exposes Libya turmoil
  7. EU commissioner condemns 'delay' in post-Dieselgate reform
  8. Sweden fights back as foreign leaders make up bad news

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  2. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  3. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  4. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  6. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean
  7. World VisionGaza Staff Member Pleads Not Guilty
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region First to Consider Complete Ban on Microplastics in Cosmetics
  9. Dialogue PlatformWhy the West 'Failed to Understand' Turkey
  10. European Jewish CongressInternational Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony
  11. European Free AllianceCatalan Independence Referendum: A Matter of Democracy
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsKyrgyzstan: No Justice for Human Rights Defender Azimjan Askarov