European Commission President José Manuel Barroso has fired off an undiplomatic warning to British Conservatives that they risk losing out to the eurosceptic UKIP party in the next British elections, saying British voters would rather vote for the original than the copy.
Barroso made his offbeat remarks while answering questions from MEPs after his state of the union address, yesterday (11 September) in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The speech itself did not offer new ideas or initiatives and failed to impress MEPs, but the second part of the debate saw a completely different Barroso: inspired, pugnacious and merciless in his attacks.
The Commission president was responding to Conservative Tory MEP Martin Callanan, the leader of the “European Conservatives and Reformists” (ECR) group in the European Parliament.
Callanan, standing next to Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), accused the Commission of representing the "vested interests of the European District in Brussels not the people of Europe".
Barroso replied with unusual bluntness, saying the British Conservatives were merely copying UKIP in their eurosceptic stance and would probably lose out at the forthcoming European elections as a result.
“Increasingly, your party and your group is looking like UKIP and the euroskeptic and anti-European group. And I start to have some doubts whether you are going to be elected in Britain or if it is not UKIP that will be the first force in British elections," he told MEPs
"Because when it comes to [being] against Europe people prefer the original to the copy. That is probably why they are going to vote for Mr Farage … I don't say this with any kind of satisfaction because although we have our differences we have worked together in many areas with the British Conservatives and the conservative group," Barroso said, mentioning the internal market and free trade as examples of past cooperation.
“If those forces that are pro-European, or even those who are not really pro-European, but constructive, have the same speech, the same political attitude of the eurosceptics, the anti-Europeans, the populists, in that case they will win the next election. My appeal to you is to make the case for Europe, because you are part of Europe, Barroso said.
Speaking afterwards, Farage appeared to agree with Barroso.
"Mr Barroso is right to say that the only real EU debate is whether the UK leaves or stays in the EU, and not the unrealistic promises by David Cameron," he said.
However, in his usual style, he slammed Barroso both personally and as leader of the Commission.
“You are a man that likes fixed ideology, you probably picked it up when you were a communist or Maoist, or whatever you were, and for the last ten years you've pursued euro-federalism combined with an increasing green obsession,” Farage said.
As usual, the UKIP leader attacked the Commission for the euro, which he called “a misconstruction from the start” and, this time, also for its climate change policy.
A new battle cry?
Displaying what appeared to be a Nasa satellite photo, he claimed that an ice-cap in the Arctic had increased by 60% in one year, and a process of “global cooling” – rather than warming – was taking place.
“We may have made one of the biggest stupidest collective mistakes in history by getting so worried about global warming. You can reverse this in the next seven or eight months. You can bring down peoples' taxes. If you don't, they will vote on it during the European elections of next year,” Farage announced, in UKIP's apparent new battle cry.
Karel Lannoo, CEO of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), a Brussels think-tank, told EURACTIV that Barroso’s attack on the ECR had been “to the point”.
“Good attack of Tories”, Lanoo said, referring to Barroso’s outburst.
The CEPS CEO said he had found Barroso “passionate, combative”, and that the Commission President had carried many of the issues the two of them had discussed in preparation of the State of the Union speech a week ago.
What’s wrong with the ‘F’ word?
However, Lannoo expressed disappointment that Barroso didn’t use the “F” word, meaning federalism, in his speech.
“I also suggested going further than what he said last year, [that] the EU is a federation of nation states. Now there is no reference to the “F” word. Why not say it? Banking Union is federal, we need more federal Europe,” Lanoo said.
However, it may be difficult to imagine the Commission President speaking about the need for deep reform of the EU in an integrationist direction less than two weeks before German general elections.
The CEPS CEO criticised Barroso for saying that with the introduction of many measures to enforce economic governance, “the sovereignty of the member states is not constrained”.
“This is not correct,” Lannoo said, adding that the “six pack” for example was an example of abandon of sovereignty. The 'six-pack' of economic reforms aimed to strengthen the EU's Stability and Growth Pact in order to prevent budget gaps was adopted two years ago.