Tag Archives: Barroso

What if…

European elections are still a few months away, yet most commentators are already speculating on who, amongst the current Brussels “mandarins”, is going to be elected (but it’s safer to say “appointed”) in the EU top posts. However, and once discounted the increased loss of relevance of certain European institutions, there is in Brussels a worrying tendency to disregard the multiplying signs of rising extremisms that could – if the result confirms the early polls – change the face of the Parliament and, more in general, of European politics.

Politicians in the European capital seem to completely disregard signals coming from electorates all around Europe: a circumstance that is even more discomforting given that – this time – political parties will be accountable for their choices of candidate for President of the Commission. Recent surveys and electoral tests have shown strong hints that a solid performance from the so-called “populist parties” is likely: in the recent German elections, the AFD party clinched almost 5% and nearly made it to the Bundestag (and all odds go in the direction of an increase next spring), while the French “Front National” might possibly be the first party in the country with almost 25% consensus (and it recently won a second round election in a small city, defeating an alliance of UMP and PS voters). In Italy, the 5Star Movement also enjoys a similar backing (20-25%), while the UKIP in England as well as the Spanish extreme left are on the rise as well. Austrians “liberals” (who appear to be not so liberal after all…) also deserve close attention, amid their recent score in the country’s political elections, as does Golden Dawn, boosted by criminal accusations that determine, as usual in these cases, an aura of martyrdom very popular with its most fervent supporters.

On the other hand, for “traditional” parties it’s “business as usual”: there is very little preoccupation and even less talk of a possible major defeat. The line of reasoning is always the same – “we’ll pull it through”. But what if, this time, so-called “populist” parties make an amazing performance or, even worse, the group is currently known as the EFD becomes the biggest one within the EP?

Not much in policy terms, I suspect: the “Euro-skeptic” formations are very diverse and pursue different policies in their countries. In the EP, they are very much united only by their loathe for the European construction and by their desire to revert to nation states, while coherent and solid policymaking – even in the direction of a “deregulation” or “re-nationalization” of EU competences – will hardly be their top priority.

However, the political meaning of such display of power can be enormous for the Union, just at the time when it tries to move forward with some decisive changes towards supranationalism (not federalism, which is a completely different matter). It will push traditional parties “towards the extremes”, in search of the lost consensus, it will rise awareness that citizens do not want “more integration” and it will once and for all wipe out the neo-functionalist idea that a “shift of loyalty” towards the center would, sooner or later, occur. In fact, if anything, citizens’ “loyalty” is shifting back to nation states.

Ironically, all this will happen in the first European elections in history where participation will – most likely – be higher than in the previous one.

All in all, talks of democratic deficit and increased legitimacy of European institutions as well as the emphasis on the importance of the upcoming vote are dangerous for traditional parties – as they increase the reject for them amongst European voters – and should be cut very short. In a rare moment of truth, an MEP once told me that the only “federal” organ of the EU is today the European Central Bank, which has not been elected and whose “independence” – a circumstance that has allowed it to take decisions based on the interests of the Eurozone as a whole – is currently considered by many countries as a mistake.

When, a few months ago, I wrote that European federalism is today an illusion and that Barroso was either delusional or completely phony in publicly affirming how close the objective was (again, whose objective?), I was branded as a “Euroskeptic”. They even interviewed me to prove that “College of Europe graduates were turning agains the European construction”. What I was instead trying to say is that there is amongst European voters only one element of consensus:  EU (and the Eurozone) work well when they don’t have the arrogance to claim some sort of political legitimacy, or state plans to build a “federalist” (again, with what public support?) union.

I also meant to say how dangerous it is to mention an ambitious “democratic” idea when there is total lack of public support for it: it’s as if an untalented football player communicated to the opposing team’s defense his intention to score an inverted kick. At best, he has made his intentions public to his opponents; at worst, he has motivated them to be even more cautious about his moves. In both cases, given his lack of talent, he is going to embarrass himself.

The overwhelming majority of politicians in Brussels are notoriously unknown amongst European voters: given their (lack of) ability to take the stage, we could only hope for the sake of the Union’s future that it stays this way.

Alfonso Ricciardelli

Barroso’s promise of a federal Europe is an insult.

On May 9th, Europe celebrates its “independence day”, in commemoration of the 1950 Schuman declaration. This event should also constitute a moment of reflection, in a time of great difficulty for the European project. However, some European leaders seem to think that empty propaganda is more important than a serious debate.

Instead of fueling a long-awaited discussion on the future of Europe, Jose Barroso, the President of the European Commission, declared in an interview to the “Telegraph” yesterday that Europe will soon become “Federal”: an announcement that is not only a political mistake (it will give clean arguments to the British conservatives against staying in the Union), but also an incomprehensible statement in a time when confidence in the EU is waning.

The statement comes just a few days after economic data in the EU certified the double-dip recession even in the “core” – with German growth being sluggish in the latest quarter – and the rise in unemployment in the bloc, now at 12.1%.

Furthermore, an anti-EU feeling is now spread all over the continent, with peaks in the UK where the UKIP – a traditionally weak party in internal elections – scored a stunning result in the latest local vote.

A voice in defense of President Barroso might say that “the Commission is not responsible for Euroskepticism, but governments are”. Sure, national politicians have their responsibility, but the institution that is supposed to be the “guardian of the Treaties” has done little to avoid this loss of faith.

The European Commission, which President Barroso so shallowly presided for the past eight years, has been constantly overpowered throughout the crisis by national politics and by other European institutions. Its Lisbon Strategy proved to be a disaster (“making Europe the most competitive marketplace in the world by 2010…”), its project for a “job-rich recovery” is very far away from accomplishment (there is no recovery, let alone a job-rich one), its request to have a say in the most important issue of the crisis – banking supervision through its agent, the EBA – was dismissed by the Council, who also created an exemption for the Landesbanken, German regional banks that a different Commission had once tried to stop from using public guarantees to do speculative trade. Finally, national leaders also quickly dismissed a project for a mutualization of the Euro-zone debt through Eurobonds, launched by Barroso in 2010.

The president’s “state of the Union” addresses (what a pompous and inappropriate name…), for the past three years, have certified the state of denial of the crisis, of the institutional turmoil, of the decadent role of the European Commission itself. It is a decadence that is equally due both to the rising power of national politicians and to the inefficiency and the lack of vision of the European Commission leadership. The main actors on the scene are now other institutions – the Eurosummit, the ECB, the Council – whose priority is to reinforce the monetary Union and certainly not to create a federal Europe.

The legacy of these eight years of Barroso’s presidency is evident and could be easily summarized: a few unconvincing speeches, a constant incapacity to negotiate from an even position with national politicians and with the other institutions, a lack of initiative that clashes so stridently with the abundance of declarations of principle.

A serious, intense and constructive – but real – debate on the future of Europe should be launched, but it’s doubtful whether the current president of the Commission still has the credibility to do so. It is doubtful even whether the European Commission has the political strength to “force” that debate in the EU.

Ironically, a good recommendation for president Barroso comes from the Greek tradition: “words are silver, silence is gold…”

Alfonso Ricciardelli