Citizens, EU experts offer damning assessment of Barroso II

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EXCLUSIVE / The current European Commission administration is performing badly two years into its term, say more than half of respondents to a Burson-Marsteller and EurActiv survey.

On a scale of one to 10 - with one being “bad” and 10 “good” - 53.6% of respondents gave the EU executive a mark of three. Furthermore, 23.1% ranked it at the bottom - one - midway through its four-year mandate.

Less than 1% gave the Commission a full 10.

No median response for the EU executive’s performance in each policy area was higher than four. Economic and Monetary Union was judged to be where it was faring worst. 

“The message for the Commission as a whole - and also for individual commissioners - is that they need to do a lot better,” said David Earnshaw, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller, the consultancy.

The performance of the administration is also perceived to have deteriorated, with almost half (49.4%) of respondents saying it has worsened since last year. Of those, 22.3% say it has “got much worse”.

One-third of respondents thought the Commission was performing badly in tackling the financial and economic crises, with the same number putting growth, jobs and social policy in their top two priorities.

The survey involved 811 people drawn chiefly from the EU policymaking world, with 29.6% saying they work for the EU institutions. Of the remaining respondents, 10.2% said they worked in universities, 11.8% in consultancies and 13.2% in businesses. Regarding their policy expertise, 24.2% cited economic and monetary affairs and the euro.

The respondents were drawn from all age brackets, with one-third between 31-40, and from different member states and the rest of the world, with the largest number from Germany (12.9%) and Belgium (12.6%).

The staff

President José Manuel Barroso and Vice President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton received the worst marks by far - 2.5 and two respectively, but also the most individual ratings.

Joaquín Almunia (competition), Olli Rehn (economic and monetary affairs) and Janusz Lewandowski (budget) each ranked 3.5 on the 10-point scale.

Neelie Kroes (digital agenda) received the best score overall - six - and was also judged to be the most improved commissioner and best communicator.

Kristalina Georgieva (international cooperation, humanitarian aid and crisis response) ranked 5.5 in the survey.

Despite condemnation of the current administration and some of its foremost members, most commissioners were marked right down the middle, with 10 of the 27 commissioners given five on the 10-point scale.

What next

Looking forward to the next Commission in 2014, respondents appear to want a future president who is a big-hitter. Angela Merkel is singled out as the ‘preferred’ candidate among respondents although most say Barroso will be the ‘likely’ centre-right candidate for 2014.

Belgian Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt was judged to be the most likely 2014 president and second behind Merkel as the preferred choice.

Perhaps surprisingly, 16.3% said they wanted Tony Blair to take on the role for the Socialists. Pollsters also judged the former British prime minister as the second most likely president, behind Verhofstadt.

‘Quite worrying’ but 'very healthy' debate

Karel Lannoo, chief executive of the Centre for European Policy Studies, said the scores were “quite worrying”. The results showed that the economic and financial crisis was becoming a crisis of confidence, “spilling over from the economic to the political sphere," he told EurActiv.

Lannoo said the news media were partially to blame for the poor perception of the institutions, due for instance to the eurosceptic slant adopted by many mainstream newspapers in the United Kingdom, and an increasingly negative portrayal of the EU in Spain, Portugal and Italy, where austerity measures have taken a toll on employment.

But he said the increased level of discussion around Europe and the role of the intuitions would eventually prove to be “very healthy”.

To Lannoo, public opinion should become more optimitistic because of measures such as the fiscal compact treaty.

“Things are more positive now… the markets have become calmer" he said, adding, "public opinion is behind the markets”.

But he did admit the EU institutions had a problem in making their work known to the general public.

“We don’t manage to communicate Europe”, he said, adding that there was a “cacophony of views, even at the top”. He said such a “confused picture” was strongly to blame for upsetting the stock market.

The policy expert said the members of the EU executive should not be blamed for their poor public perception, which he said had turned into a sort of “quasi-council structure no longer run by the commissioners”.

“Barroso cannot say what he wants. They [the commissioners] work on a very difficult basis and we need to realise it”.

To Lannoo, the negative perception of the commissioners is part of a wider trend.

“Look around Europe, who is doing better [than Barroso]? The only one who stands out is Merkel. And these people have more power than Barroso.”

He doubted whether even the German chancellor would come across as well if she was head of the EU executive.

“She has a strong treasury behind her [in Germany]. In Brussels she would feel incapable,” he said, adding that the member states were to blame for the lack of power afforded to the commissioners, also the reason why Ashton had had such trouble establishing the European External Action Service.

“She can only be blamed to a limited extent”, he said. “The problem is the member states do not want [it] and she is blamed for that."

Overall Lannoo said: “I would never score so badly the Commission… they are extremely competent people who do their work well”, he said.

“I would give rather give them a seven than a four."

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