Sunday

13th Jun 2021

Opinion

Making or breaking the European Union - Barroso’s U-turn?

Seldom in the history of European integration have the EU’s political elites faced a crisis as complex and diverse as the current one. At critical times in the process of European integration, courageous leaders showed the way forward when they mustered the necessary audacity and vision. At the beginning of his eighth year in office, Commission President Barroso may finally have decided that it is time for a new breakthrough.

Back in the 1950s, the Committee around Paul-Henri Spaak elaborated the Rome Treaties in a bid to overcome the lingering euro-pessimism after the French 'no' to the European DefenCe Community. When the process of unification stalled again in the 1970s, Altiero Spinelli put it back on the rails with proposals to create a European Union and Jacques Delors drove forward the establishment of the single market in the 1990s.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Will Barroso deserve a place in the gallery of European leaders to be remembered? (Photo: Irish Presidency)

President Barroso knows all too well that his name will not belong in the list of great European statesmen unless he makes a U-turn to leave a legacy worth mentioning in future history books,

Over the past decade, euro-optimism has steadily sunk to an all-time low. An entire generation of graduates and young professionals grew up never having been inspired by combative and self-assertive political leaders who are overtly and staunchly defending the European cause.

The protracted ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the uncoordinated response to the turmoil in the financial markets, the piecemeal approach to Greece’s looming default and the uncertain outlook for the euro have dealt a serious blow to the Union’s image as well as the boldness of the Commission.

Time and again member states have tried to cure the symptoms but they consistently failed to craft strategic, long-term solutions. The increasing weight of intergovernmental bargaining in decision-making and the creeping come-back of nationalist tendencies led the EU Institutions into an existential crisis they did not cause themselves. Citizens’ trust and confidence in the EU is rapidly fading while third countries are increasingly questioning, if not mocking, its capacity to act.

The Commission, being the guarantor of the Treaties, seems to have realised that attack is the best form of defence against the member states in order to prevent the EU from breaking up.

Until now repeatedly accused of being the lap dog of the bigger member states, Barroso caught MEPs by surprise stressing the need for a 'federalist moment' in a previous Strasbourg speech and holding a passionate appeal for the community-method in his latest State of the Union.

He stands now at a turning point where he must choose between his usual, opportunistic approach that avoids confrontation with the member states or radically confronting them with the limitations of national short-sightedness.

Opening the doors to treaty changes and beefing up European economic governance will be decisive in allowing the EU survive its current challenges.

It remains to be seen to what extent the Commission will succeed in unifying the external representation of the euro area, increasing its own resources significantly (such as via a Financial Transaction Tax), accelerating the creation of a fiscal union and possibly boosting renewed cooperation in security and defence policy.

It is up to Barroso, his cabinet and the entire Commission to translate words into courageous actions until the next elections in 2014.

Only if he is successful in fighting against the current eurosceptic mood and inspiring politicians as well as citizens with a vision for the future will Barroso find a place in the gallery of European leaders that deserve to be remembered.

The writer is President of the Young European Federalists and a former Attaché at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Barroso attacks member states, US, banks

In a tub-thumping speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the president of the European Commission has mounted a blistering attack on the leadership of EU member states in the face of what he called the greatest challenge Europe has faced in its history.

Eurozone countries hold series of crucial votes

A swathe of European parliaments are this week due to decide on the strengthened temporary bailout fund, the EFSF, but the eurozone debate is moving faster than the political process.

What the EU public think of EU pesticide regulation

The EU is committed to reduce "the risk and use of pesticides by 50 percent" by 2030. However, given the level of controversy and public distrust surrounding EU pesticides regulation over the last decade, which reforms could garner public support?

News in Brief

  1. EU top court fast-tracks rule-of-law case to October
  2. Hungary's Fidesz wants to ban LGBTIQ content for under-18s
  3. MEPs join EU citizens on farm-animal cage ban
  4. Council of Europe urges Russia to release Navalny 'immediately'
  5. China's anti-sanctions law alarms EU businesses
  6. Airlines seek to water down EU passengers' rights
  7. EU leaders join call for further probe into Covid origins
  8. Liberal MEPs under fire over Babiš abstention

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council enters into formal relations with European Parliament
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen more active in violent extremist circles than first assumed
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance

Latest News

  1. EU urges Poland to step back from 'legal primacy' clash
  2. Pressure builds on EU to back WTO vaccine-patent waiver
  3. EU anti-fraud agency cracked down on fake pandemic supplies
  4. MEP office expenses kept secret on dubious evidence
  5. What the EU public think of EU pesticide regulation
  6. MEPs set to take EU Commission to court on rule-of-law
  7. EU takes legal action against Germany on bonds ruling
  8. MEPs demand new EU biodiversity law by next year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us