José Manuel Barroso shares his views on the EU, past and future.
Last Friday, Jose Manuel Barroso ended a busy week of events at the European University Institute by sharing memories of his time at the helm of the European Union. Four years after stepping back from EU decision-making, he joined EUI Researchers and Florian Eder, Politico’s Managing Editor, to reflect on his experience.
Barroso was President of the European Commission from 2004 – 2014, during the financial crisis and the biggest enlargement of the Union to date. The latter event, which saw the EU expand from 15 to 28 member states, was ‘Europe’s greatest achievement,’ Barroso told the audience gathered in the Florentine hills. The former has left a rather more complicated legacy.
Barroso responds to questions from EUI researchers Mirjam Dagefoerde (Department of Political and Social Sciences); Silvia Sassano (Department of History and Civilization); Anna Krisztiàn (Department of Law), and João Carlos Brogueira De Sousa (Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies)
Italy was at the centre of the euro-crisis which dominated the latter part of Barroso’s Presidency. When economies in the euro-zone and beyond began to struggle, Barroso admitted the EU was unprepared. ‘We simply did not have the tools [to cope with the crisis],’ he said. ‘We had to build the lifeboats in the middle of the storm.’
For Barroso, the principle of equality is very important in maintaining support for the European Union: ‘if we show states they are second class, we have a problem,’ he told participants at the European University Institute. Yet the economic and financial crisis had ‘social and political effects’ which have left people ‘sad or angry,’ Barroso admitted. Indeed, whilst the storm has since subsided in countries such as Germany, in Italy where the economy is still struggling, euro-scepticism has received a boost.
Yet according to Barroso, the responsibility for securing the European Union’s future lies not with the European institutions but with national politicians. ‘The European Union is a transnational process… It is not a state and it is not an international institution,’ he said.
In Italy and elsewhere, ‘people tend to Europeanise failure and nationalise success. This is not fair,’ he complained. ‘It is not this or that institutional feature which will solve the distance between citizens and the EU. This will be done when the national-level takes ownership of the EU.’
For Barroso, anti-European politics from leaders within the European Union is hard to understand – ‘they are the European Union. If a country is in the European Union, it is because they chose to be,’ he said.