Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that while the EU was "ridiculed" for its handling of the eurozone crisis he would not criticise the United States for its budget deadlock, as this was a "normal" result of democracy.
The United States government fell into a partial shutdown at midnight on 1 October after Republican and Democrat leaders failed to strike a deal over the budget. Markets largely ignored the deadlock but economists have said it would most likely have a broader impact if it last for more than a few days, and could potentially drag further down an economic recovery that has had struggled to gain traction.
Asked by EURACTIV if he had any advice for Washington, Barroso said that if the shutdown had happened in the European Union, the bloc would be judged “without pity” by its global counterparts.
“If this had happened in Europe, what wouldn’t they say about Europe”, he said. “Imagine that we would have a shutdown at the level of EU institutions. What would they say about Europe, what caricatures there would be, what shaming there would be."
According to reports, Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy have been lectured for years by world leaders over the eurozone crisis and urged to take bolder action.
Barroso recently said that the September G20 summit in St Petersburg was the first time since the crisis broke that he had not received a verbal reprimand.
A EURACTIV source quoted Barroso as saying recently that even Cristina Kirchner, the outspoken president of Argentina, had offered him lessons on how to deal with the crisis.
‘Let’s be more humble’
But Barroso said he did not intend to criticise Europe's "American friends".
“What I say is that such situations are normal for democracies," he said. "What I say is that consensus is difficult, even in a country such as the United States. But just imagine [the difficulty of] consensus at the level of the 28 countries of the European Union,” he said.
“During the crisis, I was listening to so many people saying: you in Europe are not capable of taking decisions, you are paralysed and all this. Now I would like to say: listen, finally, it’s not only in Europe, this can happen in democracies, even if it’s only one country. So let’s be more humble, let’s recognise democracy has its own rhythm, let’s try to make progress in governance, and in this case I speak of Europe. Our American friends obviously have some problems to solve and I trust them entirely,” Barroso said.
The Commission President said that he insisted on making the point because during the most acute moments of the crisis EU leaders had to listen “a lot of people trying to ridicule Europe”. He added that in dictatorships such deadlocks would not occur.
Barroso was speaking yesterday at the unveiling of a series of Commission proposals to deepen the social aspect of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).
Barroso insisted that the Commission had done everything it could with its limited powers to fight unemployment and the “social emergency” in certain member states.
“Harmonisation in the field of fight against unemployment is prohibited by EU treaties,” he said. He added that a European system of unemployment insurance was “not possible”, because it would in fact be a “transfer of funds” from some countries to others.
“We are doing all we can, but I don’t want the EU to be accused of things it cannot do”, Barroso said.
‘Responding to anti-EU forces’
Asked by EURACTIV why he appeared to be on the defensive, Barroso said that he wanted to actively address the criticism of eurosceptics.
“Because some anti-European forces are trying to put the blame on EU institutions [for unemployment]. What I’m saying is that on behalf of EU institution we do everything, and I repeat everything, to respond to this terrible problem of unemployment, of social difficulties and poverty. But don’t ask from us what we cannot do,” he insisted.
“I know very well that in the public debate in many member countries, and the situation will exacerbate over the European elections, I am sure, they will say: unemployment – that’s because of Europe. Which is indeed not the case. Or they will say: it’s because of the euro. Which is not the case, we have countries which are not in the eurozone or in the EU and have the same problems,” he said.
Barroso said he was personally in favour of the Union being more active on the social side, but added that he would not go against the treaties.
“It is in order to help the pro-European forces win the debate that I insist: give us the means if you want us to do more in terms of unemployment."
Former Portuguese Prime Minister José Manuel Barroso is nearing the end of his second term as Commission President. In theory, he could run for a third mandate, but the option looks unlikely.
Asked about his prospects, Barroso says he was too busy with work to have considered his political future. But sources say he is interested in becoming the next secretary general of Nato. The US consent is crucial for obtaining the job.
Barroso is vice-president of the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP).
- 22-25 May 2014: European elections in all 28 member states
- 1 November 2014: New European Commission takes office