Barroso goes for bravado
29 September 2011
In his “Speech of the Union” to the European Parliament on September 28, the President of the Commission sought to defend his institution and put forward concrete proposals to leave the crisis behind. But the European press has no illusions about his true room for manoeuvre.
“Barroso has popped up again!” quips Mediapart. “On Wednesday in Strasbourg, the European Commission showed signs of life. The disappearing act of its president, José Manuel Barroso, has been running for months against a backdrop of financial turmoil unprecedented for the eurozone.”
To prove to sceptics that he is more alive than ever, Barroso pulled out two flagship proposals meant to calm the financial markets: First, a tax on financial transactions across the EU. Second, eurobonds for the eurozone... the sole offer that the same Barroso placed on the table last year at the same time, (the green light to a European debt facility to finance targeted investment projects), never saw the light of day [...] If he wins through just on the issues of financial regulation, at the height of the crisis, it's because he spent a good deal of his first term (2004-2009) unravelling what little regulation of the markets was already in place. [...] How can he claim today to have the means to put the markets back in their place?
For Público in Lisbon, Barroso's speech had “an essentially political objective: to reject the Franco-German proposal for an economic government of the eurozone that was presented by Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy during their meeting on August 16.”
Yesterday, Mr Barroso told them that the 'economic power' in the Union can be wielded only by the Commission. And he said it before the only EU institution he can rely on in this affair - the European Parliament. His speech gives us a little taste of an admission of weakness. The Commission that he chairs has almost vanished in battle in the maelstrom of the European crisis. It has been systematically marginalised by the determination of the Franco-German duo. It has looked on helplessly at the transfer of power to Berlin. And if there was indeed a protagonist in the real fight against the destructive effects of this crisis, it was the European Central Bank. One might say that this shift is inevitable, and that the debt crisis has only speeded it up.
In any event, we must recognise that the Commission is taking action, notes El País, writing that Barroso's intervention before the European Parliament has been
one small example of realism in the doldrums of blunders and useless rhetoric that has characterised the management of the crisis in the eurozone lately.
Among the proposals put forward by the President of the Commission, Público singles out the figure of 0.01 percent: that's the amount of the “Tobin tax” that Brussels plans to impose on transactions among banks by 2014:
The figure shows the timidity of the initiative, compared to the 4,600 billion euros that European citizens have injected into the financial system since the start of the crisis. We will just have to wait and see if it will succeed, since the elephantine decision-making machinery of the Union requires that any modification of EU tax law be approved unanimously by all member states - and the British government has already expressed its opposition to the tax.
No offence to the President of the Commission, but he is not the one who should be giving the “speech on the state of the Union” – it's Angela Merkel who should, affirms editorialist Marek Magierowski in Rczespospolita:
He is not the one who pulls the strings and it won't be him who will be blamed for a possible disintegration of the eurozone… The EU is ruled by the German chancellor and everybody - world politicians, economists and investors alike - is keeping their eyes fixed on her [...] Barroso's speech was frequently interrupted with ovations from the MEPS and from leaders of the conservative parties in the European Parliament, whose comments betrayed something approaching enthusiasm. Everyone played their role perfectly wonderfully in the theatre of the EU. But real life is elsewhere.
The show of force by the President of the Commission, however, persuaded Maroun Labaki of Le Soir that
... José Manuel Barroso is a very able politician. A bit of tactics, some posturing, and great conviction: the President of the European Commission gave a grand and eminently political speech on the state of the Union'. [...] One can predict that an 'axis' was born yesterday between the Commission and the Europarliament. This rapprochement will be made de facto at the expense of the capitals and of the Council as a whole. The heads of state and government have true cause for worry...