Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

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."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

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.

EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law

The European Parliament backed a law on copyrighted content online. Defenders says it will safeguard right holders from being exploited by big tech firms. Critics say it spells the end of internet freedoms and curtails expression.

Opinion

Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?

Ahead of the European Parliament election in May, the bloc is ideologically split between authoritarians seeking to reduce its sway, and those seeking a moderate track. In essence, voters have to decide if they want to move forwards or backwards.

Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem

Romania will move its embassy to Jerusalem, its prime minister has said, shattering the EU line on the Arab-Israeli conflict while the country holds the EU rotating presidency.

Magazine

The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted

It is a divisive 'Brussels bubble' debate: whether to give the European Parliament more of a say on who becomes the next European Commission president. But the issue goes right to the heart of European integration.

Opinion

Russia and money laundering in Europe

After Danske Bank, both the US and the EU need to abandon the principle in bank regulation that it is all right to be a crook as long as you are big.

News in Brief

  1. EU tables plan for joint approach to 5G security
  2. MEPs agree to scrap summer time clock changes by 2021
  3. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  4. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  5. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  6. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  7. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  8. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm

Magazine

The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted

It is a divisive 'Brussels bubble' debate: whether to give the European Parliament more of a say on who becomes the next European Commission president. But the issue goes right to the heart of European integration.

Magazine

All about the European Parliament elections 2019

EUobserver's new magazine is meant to help readers prepare for the European Parliament elections, no matter their level of knowledge. You can download and read the entire magazine now.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. EU lawmakers pass contentious copyright law
  2. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  3. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  4. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  5. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  6. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  7. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  8. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us