Rasmussen dismisses Barroso programme as ‘business as usual’

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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). 

In his blog yesterday, European Socialist Party leader Poul Nyrup Rasmussen offered the following reaction to Barroso's programme: 

"José Manuel Barroso sent European Parliament political groups his five-year programme last week in his bid to be re-elected Commission president for a second term. This is in the run-up to tomorrow's hearings in the Parliament where he will try to convince MEPs that he's the right person to lead Europe in these times of crisis. 

"But on the evidence of his programme, Barroso has stumbled on the first hurdle. A close analysis 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. 

"We're facing a historic economic crisis: eight million people have already lost their jobs and 30 million Europeans could be unemployed by 2011. But Barroso thinks we can continue as before, with an outdated recovery plan and no new European initiatives. There's no commitment to an ambitious, new strategy to fight mass unemployment for our citizens. There's no vision of how to avert a catastrophic decline in Europe's prospects and living standards for years to come. 

"Where is his vision for a new economic paradigm to replace the mistaken policies of the past? 

"What we do in the next five years will be the difference between success and failure for the entire European project and – I fear – the future welfare of our societies. Europe's citizens deserve better than business as usual. 

"We need real commitments and leadership now, not the same old warm words. Barroso has his work cut out tomorrow."

José Manuel Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government in June for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission (EURACTIV 19/06/09). 

However, the re-election of Barroso has taken a different course in the European Parliament. After consultations mediated by the Swedish EU Presidency had taken place, it emerged that the European Parliament would not hold a vote on Barroso's re-appointment at its July plenary (EURACTIV 02/07/09). 

MEPs from the Socialist and Liberal groups, backed by the Greens and leftists, said that any decision on major appointments should wait until after the September general election in Germany and the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland, to be held on 2 October. 

Consequently, just before the summer recess, the leaders of the European Parliament's political groups agreed to delay until 10 September their decision on when to stage a vote for the top job (EURACTIV 17/07/09). On 25 August, Barroso, having worked over the recess, said he would send his programme for the next five years to the political groups in the European Parliament and hold discussions with them (EURACTIV 26/08/09). 

The 41-page document, entitled 'Political guidelines for the next Commission,' was unveiled on 3 September (EURACTIV 03/09/09), and immediately received criticism from environmental groups as lacking leadership (EURACTIV 07/09/09). 

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