European Commission: Barroso, the Union's in a state
8 September 2010
With all that has recently transpired throughout Europe, observers have been awaiting the first EU state of the union speech from its chief executive in Brussels. Though the EU is indeed slowly pulling itself out of the financial crisis, the tone of the speech reveals a marked lack of ambition, according to the European press.
On September 7, José Manuel Barroso delivered his first state of the Union speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, but the general consensus can be summed up in six words: new face, not so new message. According to La Croix, everyone was "waiting (in anticipation) just around the bend" for Barroso's missive. But "after months of criticism concerning his passivity in dealing with the world crisis and with Greece's budget difficulties, the MEP's (still) rather favourably received his catalogue of projects for the fall", observes the French daily. But for the Volkskrant, the speech amounts to a "lacklustre list of new initiatives", declaring that "Barroso has missed his target under an avalanche of words".
"Instead of the state of the Union, we got a lecture on economic strategy", complains La Libre Belgique, observing in particular "the return of an (old) idea proposed by Jacques Delors, which was shot down at the time by Germany: securing loans from European funds to finance large infrastructure projects, in collaboration with the European Investment Bank". In short, for the Brussels daily, it was just another example of "vintage Barroso" that was trotted out before the MEP's.
The equal of that man in the White House?
El País saw in Barroso's discourse the desire to "imitate" the centuries-old tradition of the State of the Union address delivered to the American Congress by the president. And in his Financial Times blog, Gideon Rachman finds that "the Commission president has stuck doggedly to his campaign to be regarded as the equal of that man in the White House". Just the same, Polska advances the idea that there exist some similarities between Obama and Barroso: “Not only are they both struggling to reconstruct their economies in the wake of the crisis, but they are also working to restore confidence" in their leadership. But “the declarations of the American president evolve into legislation, while the majority of Barroso's pronouncements only amount to a diagnostic of the situation, or just wishful thinking", concludes Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.
In fact, De Volkskrant reports, "nothing remains of the original text of the speech following the pressures exerted by the commissioners (who all have their own messages to deliver) and other officials". Polska considers that the "Brussels elite ... dreams of becoming a single entity, not 27 separate projects". But the large demonstrations in France and the recent strike affecting the London Underground prove that this desire will remain "only a dream". As a consequence, adds Warsaw's Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, the "true message of the speech" is that "the European bureaucracy is on the defensive (because individual) member states are closer to finding their way toward successful integration". And as Lisbon's Público remarks, "this highly anticipated speech" is far from impressing the MEP's who were "expecting a clear strategy for pulling the EU out of its intergovernmental drift".
Since when does Brussels want to be like Washington?
"Are we swimming or drowning?" asks Gazeta Wyborcza. “The problem in Europe that the Treaty of Lisbon did not solve is the lack of strong leadership". In this context, the competition between the different European institutions (the Commission, the Council and the Parliament) brings nothing positive to the table: "It is high time for the European institutions to put aside their individual ambitions and begin to work together for Europeans".
One may also wonder if the Commission president even takes into account the citizens of Europe. In his state of the Union speech, "There was no acknowledgment that support for the EU has plunged", Honor Mahony reminds us on her EUobserver blog. "Only later, as part of a response, did Barroso admit to 'problems, serious problems' in reference to the recent EU survey".
And since when does Brussels want to be like Washington?" wonders Der Standard. While an American president directly "addresses the people in order to outline the direction of his political agenda", the fact that Barroso "begins his speech that is broadcast live (throughout Europe) by first greeting the president of the Parliament and the MEP's, and not his fellow citizens" remains "an eternal mystery". The head of the European Commission comes off as "an inaccessible executor who remains apart from others, who doesn't dare to attack anyone, who avoids the word 'expulsion' when speaking of the Roma". A man "without vision" who incessantly minces his words. "This is Europe's dilemma: you cannot, or rather must not, speak this way to the people", complains the Viennese daily.