Let's talk about Europe

The strange Barroso-bashing

Divorce seems to be consummated between France (its national leaders rather) and José Manuel Barroso, the current president of the European Commission. Indeed, Claude Bartolone, French National Assembly Speaker, recently declared in Le Parisien, ex-Portugal’s Prime minister was an outdated man. Some days before, Arnaud Montebourg, minister of Industry, even compared Barroso with Marine Le Pen, far-right Front national party’s leader and current non-attached MEP.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission and François Hollande, President of the French Republic in Brussels.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission and François Hollande, President of the French Republic in Brussels.

Barroso-bashing is not really surprising insofar as it has always existed in France mainly. Since 2004 indeed, the European Commission leader had complicated relations with France and its political leaders. Some consider him as a zealous supporter of the US government, awarded by the Tony Blair’s Great-Britain for being in favour American intervention in Iraq and faithful to a free-market and hardly any protected Europe, following the credo “less regulation, better regulation”. Other people see him a wimp man, not really a defender of a federal Europe, taking care EU national leaders prerogatives to the great displeasure of the European citizens and European integration interests, an anti-Delors to sum up.

French media regularly relay and put forward this little positive image of Barroso who does not really something to shift his reputation towards a more and more critical (even virulent) French public opinion vis-à-vis the European Union, in which the current president of the European Commission is one of the symbols.

Nonetheless, Barroso-bashing clearly has a political expression in sight of the EP 2014 elections in France. For the French left and the French Socialist Party (and also for the Party of European Socialists) the ex-Portuguese Premier embodies what is going wrong in the European integration. It’s clearly a first-choice-target and this is a subtle and clever way but unintentional to save some actors as the EU national leaders who are actually driving the European boat and have contributed by their choice and strategy to the Barroso-bashing in France.

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The European Council, being at the core of the EU decision-making process, weakened then put the Commission aside which doesn’t act as guardian of the treaties anymore. Although José Manuel Barroso is largely responsible, it is needed to remind EU national leaders are also accountable for having reappointed him for a second-term to the head of the European Commission in 2009. Disowned by the subprime crisis, the ex-Portuguese leader was finally backed by the European People’s Party but also by the all national conservative leaders (Angela Merkel, so critical towards him today, and Nicolas Sarkozy) but also by some socialist leaders as Gordon Brown and even José Socrates. The Portuguese Socialist Party leader and Prime minister justified his decision because Barroso was Portuguese. The absence of clear political strategy divided the European socialist family who had not any candidate to challenge Barroso[1] and missed the opportunity to politicize the EP elections and tackle European Commission’s leader outcome.

So, while the 2008 – 2009 should have been the occasion for the European Council to take a new direction with a new president for the European Commission, national interests finally were superior to European integration and people’s ones. José Manuel Barroso’s personality was acceptable for most EU national leaders who did not wish a great leader being able to challenge them. In fact, even if Barroso-bashing is justified, it is only the logical result of the choices made by the national rulers considering José Manuel Barroso as a comfortable solution for them.

José Manuel Barroso with Martin Schulz, EP Chairman in October 2012 during the European Council

José Manuel Barroso with Martin Schulz, EP Chairman in October 2012 during the European Council

2014 EP elections should be the opportunity to think about the weight and the role the Commission and especially its future leader must play. On this point, the recent attitude of Martin Schulz, current socialist chairman of the European Parliament, may be interpreted as another form of Barroso-bashing insofar as he targets the European Commission leader. Even Viviane Reading, current European commissioner, seems to be distant form Barroso, expressing her views for a federal Europe at the moment a probable candidacy of the former Luxembourgian minister for the leadership of the European Commission is clearly put forward by some analysts. Waiting for it, Barroso’s detractors will have to be patient and take him into account, because his mandate to the head of the European Commission is still running till October 2014.

 


[1] Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, at that time PES president was often put forward as possible candidate for the European Commission Presidency by some French socialists, in 2009.

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