European Socialist Party leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen yesterday (8 September) issued a scathing dismissal of José Manuel Barroso’s programme of priorities for the next five years, describing it as “business as usual” and claiming he had “stumbled at the first hurdle” in his re-election campaign.
Rasmussen’s evaluation of the Barroso programme concluded that the Commission president’s plan contained no “European vision, ambition or concrete proposals”.
Anticipating today’s European Parliament hearings, where Barroso will try to persuade MEPs to back him for a second term at the helm of the EU executive, the former Danish prime minister argued that “on the evidence of his programme, Barroso has stumbled at the first hurdle”.
Appealing, perhaps, to those MEPs who may still have enough shared power – should they join forces – to block Barroso’s reappointment, the PES president claimed that a close analysis of the programme “shows that 95% of its statements and proposals are taken from old Commission initiatives. It is business as usual, with no European vision on how to tackle the massive challenges we’re facing”.
Rasmussen’s belief is that an entirely new set of initiatives are required to tackle the confluence of crises facing the incoming European Commission. “Our way of life in Europe – our prosperity, living standards and environment – is endangered if we do not forge a new European vision to tackle the enormous challenges we are facing,” he said.
Various aspects of the programme were described as containing “vague statements” and “no reflection”, resulting in Barroso “dressing up old initiatives as new proposals”.
The overall effect was an “incoherent and haphazard collection of ideas,” he concluded.
Barroso will listen to Socialist demands – expert
The PES leader indicated that the Socialists’ “final judgement” on Barroso’s plan would hinge on his ability to incorporate 11 key demands made by the socialist parliamentary group (SND) into his final programme, including an entirely new recovery plan for Europe, a European employment pact, a new charter of women’s rights and a social progress pact.
However, despite the fact that Barroso could achieve the required majority support in the Parliament through the combined backing of the centre-right (EPP), liberal (ALDE) and conservative (ECR) groups, experts believe he will do everything he can to placate the Socialists as well.
Piotr Kaczy?ski, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), told EURACTIV that Barroso wishes above all to avoid a situation where, in bypassing the Socialists entirely to have a new Commission with himself as president installed, he would create a de facto permanent opposition to the new EU executive.
“Barroso doesn’t want this type of politicisation,” he explained, “he wants broad spectrum support and a compromise among institutions that would allow him to move towards his 2020 goals”.
“He wants to win over the Socialists,” Kaczy?ski concluded.
A case of sour grapes?
Rasmussen’s criticisms, despite emerging at a sensitive time in Barroso’s re-election drive, are likely to be dismissed by the Commission president’s supporters as a case of sour grapes on the part of the Danish heavyweight.
As reported by EURACTIV, the failure of the PES since late 2008 to propose a viable alternative candidate to Barroso has eroded much of its credibility on the issue, and may even have been a factor in the party’s poor showing at June’s European elections (EURACTIV 07/06/09).