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…”