Commission president José Manuel Barroso, who is running for a second term at the EU executive’s helm, likened EU policies to address climate change and improve energy security to the coal and steel community which paved the way for European reconciliation after the Second World War.
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.
Their political support was formalised by written procedure on 9 July. Sweden, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, had insisted on having Barroso re-appointed as soon as possible, arguing that in a time of crisis, the Union needs a Commission president who is fully in power.
However, the re-election of Barroso took 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.
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. 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.
Speaking to a selected group of journalists in Brussels , Barroso commented at length his “political guidelines” for the next five years which are intended to win him the European Parliament’s support in a vote expected later this month.
'I want to listen'
"Everybody has invited me, even those who are against me," said Barroso, expressing his satisfaction to address all of the Parliament’s political groups in hearings planned on 8-9 September.
Asked if he regretted that the hearings -- except the one with the Green group -- were scheduled to take place behind closed doors, Barroso said that sometimes "some intimacy" could help foster better understanding.
He insisted he was going to Parliament "to listen", and identify new ideas to be included in his programme, which could also obtain "the consensus of pro-European forces".
He stressed that he had written the 41-page document himself, with the help of collaborators.
Asked by EurActiv if pro-European forces included the British conservatives, which earlier this year split up from the mainstream European People’s Party (EPP) to form a new anti-federalist group, he said it was not his business to issue "certificates of good Europeanship".
He is not dogmatic, he assured, saying he knows from history that communists such as Altiero Spinelli or conservatives such as Baron Cockfield had made rich contributions to the European project.
Barroso further insisted that he had proven that he was able to steer a Commission as a political, not a partisan body.
"With my culture of leadership, which I applied during five years, you have never seen fractions in the Commission, like the Liberals against the Socialists, or the Socialists against the Christian Democrats. […] Because for me the Commission is the party of Europe,” Barroso said, speaking in French.
Not a servant of big countries
Asked how he would respond to criticisms that had been too accommodating to large EU member states, Barroso called those assumptions "unfounded, unfair, inaccurate".
"I had more fights with big member states than with small member states," he said.
Asked about his legacy from the past five years, and if he saw himself as a visionary or a pragmatic, Barroso said with humour that he didn’t want to talk about himself in the past tense, as he was considering himself young, at 53 years.
'By far the greatest success was climate change'
"But if you ask me about the legacy of this Commission -- the first commission of a reunified Europe -- in terms of policies, by far the greatest success was climate change."
"Now we are leading the world in setting the standards for fighting climate change. It was a proposal of my commission, and it was, by the way, not easy to convince some member states, but we’ve got it," Barroso said.
You may have a vision, but try to reach it in pragmatic ways, Barroso explained, reminding that Jean Monnet did not say "Let’s create the United States of Europe" but instead created solidarity in the strategic coal and steel industries. With climate change and energy security, he said the present commission was doing something similar, at the doorstep of the 21st century.
"Coal and steel was to reconcile the former enemies, Germany and France […] Honestly, some countries in Europe were not so enthusiastic in the agenda about climate change, but they were concerned about energy security. So we linked both," Barroso said, adding that in Europe it was often possible to have a greater ambition than a smaller ambition.
"If the Commission had just proposed a climate change agenda, it would be very difficult to have consensus," he pointed out.
Lisbon Treaty delay 'worrying'
Barroso expressed worries about the delayed ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and spoke about the possibility of extending the mandate of the present Commission in a caretaker capacity after 23 November, when his five-year mandate will expire.
"Yes, I am worried […] If we don’t have the legal clarity, there is a possibility to have a caretaker Commission, and this is not good. This is why I think it is not a good idea to postpone decisions we can take already now."
Barroso said the EU’s institutional stability was particularly important with the upcoming United Nations conference in Copenhagen, which is due to adopt a successor to the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
"The Copenhagen conference is in December. It is one of the most important moments in global negotiations in the last years, and I fear the Commission will not be there with its full competences, politically and even legally."
For this reason, he said that "once the issue of membership of the Commission is solved," he will urge the member states to "solve the other issues" – not only the Irish referendum, but asking the remaining states – the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany – to decide on the Lisbon Treaty.
A European Commission President with a fresh legitimacy has more authority to solve those issues, he added.
Message to Ireland
As for Ireland, Barroso said he hoped the Irish people would remember the efforts Europe has made to help them out of the current economic crisis.
Although Ireland represents only 1% of the EU GDP, the country had received 15% of the reserves of European Central Bank as a bailout during the financial turmoil, Barroso said. If Ireland had not been a member of the EU and the Eurozone, the country would now be facing bankruptcy like Iceland, Barroso pointed out.
"Before this entire financial crisis, the prime minister of Iceland asked me if his country could become Eurozone member without joining the EU," Barroso revealed, saying he answered that this was impossible under the current EU treaties.
"And now Iceland wants to become EU member. There a very strong case to make," said Barroso, adding that for Ireland, when most arguments do not work, a rational argument should be that a Yes vote was a vote for jobs.