Even after two mandates characterised by successive crises, the current President of the European Commission, due to leave his post in November this year, admits he has lost some illusions about the European Union, but not his enthusiasm. EURACTIV France reports.
José Manuel Barroso does not paint an entirely rosy picture of his two terms at the head of the European Commission since 2004. In an interview with the French broadcasters RFI and France 24, he conceded that his mandate had been marked by “the most difficult years since the beginning of European integration”.
The Commission President, who will hand over the reins of power to Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 November, cast himself as a survivor of the various storms to beset Europe during his two terms in office.
First, in 2005 the French and the Dutch voted “No” in referenda on the European constitution, then the financial and the debt crisis hit in 2008, followed by the Ukraine crisis in 2013.
Mr Barroso said, “We can be proud because we have demonstrated the extraordinary resilience of Europe”. He added that only two years ago there was talk of the disintegration of the EU and of Greece leaving the Eurozone.
“We have shown that Europe is a lot stronger than people thought.”
At the end of his mandates, José Manuel Barroso admits he has lost some illusions he may have once held, but not his enthusiasm.
“At certain moments I would have liked to have seen greater solidarity between governments. I had to make dramatic appeals, particularly in the case of Greece. I was afraid that the fall of Greece would lead to a domino effect. But the line was held. We stayed strong and at the same time managed to launch the new architecture of European governance,” he said, adding that a strong Europe is essential “if we want to protect our interests and our values”.
Barroso defends his politics
The President of the European Commission has faced numerous criticisms during his ten years in office, including for being “too liberal”. He believes this criticism is unjust “if we look at the facts,” particularly when considering the budget for investment and economic growth, which he regards as ambitious, the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund or even the maintenance of the aid programme for the poorest of the poor. Certain states criticised him for precisely this, saying he exceeded his function, Barroso reminded.
Even so, Barroso swept aside criticism of the Commission’s lack of prominence during the crisis, responding that it was perfectly normal, in a crisis of this scale, that governments should play a more visible role.
“You have to realise that it is not easy to find a compromise between all the governments,” he explained.
According to Mr Barroso, the member states are responsible for their lack of visibility, while the Commission carried out its role and fulfilled its duties.
“During the last ten years, the balance between the states has changed, and we should probably ask questions to these capitals rather than the Commission,” he continued.
No plan to return to politics
From November, José Manuel Barroso will be a free man. He does not intend to pursue his political career straight away, although he confesses that he has not made a decision about what his future should hold.
After 30 years in the political institutions of Portugal and the European Union, he feels it is time to start a new chapter.
“I will certainly take up some public functions like speaking at conferences, and I have already had invitations to collaborate with certain universities, but I have not yet made any formal decisions about what I will do after my mandate”.
He does, however, plan to publish a book of his experiences in the ten years at the top of the European Commission, but “not my memoires because that makes me appear too old”.
In November 2012, MEPs approved a resolution to agree on a fixed date for the next European elections (22-25 May 2014) and to politicise the campaigns.
This resolution brought MEPs into the process of choosing the next European Commission President before the summer break, and of leading the hearings of the Commissioners in October.
The new Commission is due to take up office on 1 November.
- 1 November: Barroso steps down, new Commission due to take office
- Interview with José Manuel Barroso (in French)