José Manuel Barroso's State of the Union speech to the European Parliament presented a welcome contrast with the Euroscepticism and pessimism of public discourse in Europe today, argues Staffan Nilsson.
Staffan Nilsson is the president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). This op-ed was first published here.
"Members of the European Parliament meeting last week in Strasbourg gave a rousing reception to José Manuel Barroso's State of the Union address. That this should happen was by no means a foregone conclusion. For me, it is a signal.
The elected representatives of 500 million Europeans express what the public is thinking, and public opinion – frequently based on poor or indeed erroneous information – is inclined to be inward-looking. The knee-jerk reaction tends to be protectionist and Eurosceptic. In essence, Mr Barroso was saying: No, Europe is not the cause of all your woes.
The European Parliament's unreserved backing for Mr Barroso's statement reflects the call made by Gerhard Schröder in Le Monde just a few weeks ago and the message from Jacques Delors, and others, across all the mainstream European media, calling on political leaders to drop the electioneering and, instead, have the courage to hold out against public opinion and populist ideas and carry a strong European message.
Mr Barroso has countered the tide of gloom-mongering speeches about the European Union and its prospects for the future. Well done!
I welcome the measures that were announced, albeit they are only the first stage on the road to stronger European governance. In January, the Committee endorsed the "six-pack" rules which it felt were a first step towards a European tax union. The Committee noted the need to give equal attention both to a balanced budget and to action to re-launch growth.
I fully subscribe to the measures designed to boost financial support for business start-ups by young people and to encourage innovation. I also agree on the need to act together for a green-economy, growth-based Europe. We must reform our social market economy and hold fast to the "social Europe".
I would also like to highlight one or two points made by Mr Barroso, who spoke forcefully and with determination about the role that economic, social and civil stakeholders can play in giving new momentum to Europe.
Mr Barroso made it quite clear that, in order to guarantee fundamental values in Europe, we need to boost the quality of social dialogue at European level. The renewal of Europe can only succeed, he said, with the input and the ownership of all the social partners – of trade unions, of workers, of businesses and of civil society in general. Mr Barroso also rightly underscored the key role of the social partners in seeking solutions to the problem of youth unemployment, via his Young opportunities initiative.
For me and my fellow members of the European Economic and Social Committee, this speech sounded an encouraging note at this gloom-laden time of crisis and political indecision. The Committee has been working hard on a number of fronts to support the Commission and the European Parliament in their endeavours.
We are currently working on and collecting input from civil society organisations to propose effective medium- and long-term concrete ways to get out of the crisis. The Europe 2020 strategy is more necessary than ever."