In his annual "State of the Union" speech today (28 September), Commission President José Manuel Barroso admitted that the EU was confronted with the most serious crisis of confidence in its history and outlined proposals for moving toward an economic union, calling EU leaders to support further integration.
Barroso said that the economic downturn, coupled with a deep crisis of confidence in EU leaders and their capacity to find solutions, was the greatest challenge in the history of the European project.
"Many of our citizens are afraid of the future. There is, like never before, a danger of national egoism prevailing, not to speak of nationalism," said Barroso, speaking in French in the Strasbourg plenary.
Populist responses put in jeopardy the biggest achievements of the European Union: the euro, the single market, even the freedom of movement, he stated. If the bloc does not move toward greater integration, it risks fragmentation, the Commission President warned.
However difficult, Barroso said that solutions to the crisis existed. "Europe has a future", he said, adding that this depended on the availability of political will and political leadership on behalf of the national leaders.
"Let's be completely clear – the problems we have in Europe today do not come because of the European institutions. The problems that we have in Europe today come because of narrow national interests," Barroso stated.
He criticised leaders for not making the case in support of the euro to national audiences.
"But we have to ask them 'Did you make the case for Europe? Did you make the case for the euro? Did you explain to your citizens what we have to lose if we do not keep our strong commitment to our common achievements?' So we need to make the case for Europe," he said.
Barroso offered a few strong statements and concrete proposals. Amid applause from MEPs, he stated that "Greece is and will remain member of the euro area". He also said that The Commission would make a proposal for a unified external representation of the euro area.
As previously reported by EURACTIV, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy is to be given a new role of eurozone chair at the level of heads of state and government.
He also said that the Commission will present options for introducing so-called 'stability bonds' in the coming weeks. Such issuance of joint debt will be accompanied by rules that reward those who play by the rules, and deters those who don't, he added.
Apparently, the proposed 'stability bonds' would not require a change of EU treaties. However, Barroso said a change of treaties may be needed to overcome the constraint of unanimity in EU decision-making.
Last but not least, Barroso announced that the Commission had also adopted today a proposal for a Financial Transaction Tax, which according to him would generate a revenue of over €55 billion a year (more on the FTT). However, this proposal was decried by the EU's leading employers' organization, BusinessEurope.
The three largest political groups made statements largely supportive of Barroso. Criticism mainly came from left-wing and right-wing parties, as well as from eurosceptics (see 'Positions').