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18th Feb 2019

Barroso's 'State of the Union' hits sombre note

  • Barroso on Wednesday: 'Not everything needs a solution at the European level' (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday (11 September) gave a subdued assessment of the European Union, saying the biggest risk to its future is lack of political commitment.

Barroso's fourth "State of the Union" address to the European Parliament did not contain any big vision on the future direction of the EU, but noted that the very fact the bloc got through the financial crisis is a major achievement.

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"We would never have thought all of this possible five years ago," said Barroso, referring to the steps in economic integration the EU has taken in response to the crisis.

"Europe has fought back," he noted, adding that this year, in contrast to 2012, it did not receive any "lectures" from other countries on how to handle its economy.

Whereas in a recent past speech he suggested that political union will be a "reality" in a few years' time, the Portuguese politician on Wednesday simply said it should be "our political horizon."

He also indicated it is time for the EU to step back from its tendency to try to legislate or get involved in the minutiae of member states' affairs, saying "not everything needs a solution at the European Union level."

The EU "needs to be big on big things and small on smaller things."

With a tendency, particularly in bailed-out euro countries, for citizens to see the EU as being the cause of their economic woes, Barroso devoted a large portion of the speech to explaining why Europe is "part of the solution" and asked listeners to imagine what would have happened in the absence of the EU.

He added that national leaders also need to believe in the EU for it to work effectively, however.

"At this point in time, with a fragile economy, the biggest downside risk is political," he said, citing a potential lack of "determination and perseverance."

"Strong and convincing decisions have an important and immediate impact," he noted.

In a speech that made several references to Europe's bloody past, Barroso also warned of the dangers of reversing EU integration.

"Let me say to all those - including some in this House - who rejoice in Europe's difficulties and who want to roll back our integration and go back to isolation: the pre-integrated Europe of the divisions, the war, the trenches, is not what people desire and deserve. It is our duty to preserve and deepen it," he said.

With just a few months to go before the EU institutions finish the current legislative period ahead of the May 2014 EU elections, Barroso promised to table proposals on the social dimension of Europe, on industrial policy, as well as legislation on how to punish member states that violate the EU's democratic norms.

Looking ahead to the 2014 vote, he asked "what picture of Europe will be presented to voters" noting that running MEPs can present the "candid or cartoon version."

"Now it's up to us to make the case for Europe," he noted, calling for more constructive criticism of the 28-member bloc.

"Do you want to improve Europe or give it up? Let's engage. If you don't like Europe the way it is, improve it," he said.

CORRECTION: The article was amended on 12 September when "last" was removed from the title and "likely last" from the text when referring to President Barroso's State of the Union speech, as the current European Commission is to remain in office until autumn 2014

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