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22nd Jan 2021

Barroso: Crisis inspired EU-wide debate

  • Barroso says there is a risk that moderate political parties in some member states like Britain may take on extremist positions (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said his State of the Union address laid out a pro-European narrative for political groups to follow in the lead up to the European elections.

Speaking to a group of reporters on Thursday (12 September), one day after his speech in the EU parliament, he conceded that the message may have been lost in some media coverage.

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“I thought I was making 28 different speeches,” the Portuguese politician said after reviewing press clips.

“In my own country the debate was about the issue of flexibility in terms of the correction of the deficit, almost exclusively, something I did not even mention,” he noted.

He said the speech received extensive TV coverage, but less so in the written press.

“It is probably true that in the written press it got less coverage and has less impact, probably it was not attractive what I said, probably it was my fault,” he said.

With the EU parliament election in May, campaign strategies are already being discussed among the groups.

He said he is confident that the more moderate and mainstream parties will come out on top despite the rise of eurosceptic forces in some countries, which he attributes to simplistic messages and their manipulation of people’s emotions in times of difficulty.

The anger felt among people about the crisis is justified and has paradoxically helped kick-start a wider European public space, he said.

“We have seen in the last months and years in the coffee bars of Athens people discuss the internal politics of Germany and in the popular talk shows in Germany people discuss the public finances of Cyprus,” he said.

He added: “I understand them, they are very angry when they see what happened in the financial sector, there is a resistance for the bonus for bankers and at the same time there is a resistance to a financial transaction tax that is a kind of a way of responding to the equity principle.”

But moderate political parties should resist the urge to redirect that anger against Europe because the EU cannot implement solutions without the member states, he said.

“Very often Europe takes the blame but it is not Europe, it is national capitals that put obstacles and that is why I said, once again, that there is a tendency of national politicians to nationalise the successes and Europeanise the failures,” he said.

For its part, the European Union is on the path to deeper political and monetary integration, he said.

He pointed out that the single supervisor mechanism, which was presented one year ago, was approved earlier this week by heads of the European Parliament and European Central Bank (ECB).

The rules lay the ground for a new bank supervisor to oversee the eurozone’s 150 largest banks.

“A few years ago that would have been unthinkable with the arguments even among countries considered the most European would not have accepted that an entity outside their competence would supervise their banks. It’s done, it’s fantastic,” he said.

The next step, he said, is to adopt a single resolution mechanism before the end of the parliament’s mandate.

“I think we have to do it because it is something essential to create confidence which is indispensible for establishing the mechanisms of the monetary union and to avoid the disintegration of the financial market,” he said.

Asked if he would consider running a third time as European Commission president, he said it was too early to discuss.

“I still have my mandate until next October and a political year is an eternity. For the moment, like I said, I am concentrated on what I have to do. One thing I can say is that two mandates is already a lot in terms of responsibility.”

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