José Manuel Barroso’s years as he completes his terms as the EC head

The outgoing president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said he sees EU stronger after euro debt crisis. Would you agree or not, and why? Read few comments.

Isabel Camisão, Professor na Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra

The Commission’s role in the EU governance is, in my opinion, a barometer of the “health” of the process. However, it’s extremely difficult to rightly assess the influence of the Commission and the Commission’s President. Being a multi-tier and multi-actor/leader realm, to really know who influences and who is influenced in the EU negotiations is almost impossible.

That being said, and trying to answer more directly to your question, Barroso’s appointment was sharply criticized (for instance in the media). Many considered him a “weak” candidate, deliberately chosen by the big states in order to control the EU path. Considering Barroso two terms in office I think that this negative judgement would be unfair. It is true that he was not a “high profile” leader, but Barroso was not afraid to put forward some bold proposals (such as bank supervision or the Commission blueprint for a federal EMU).

It is true that the Commission was not as influent as for instance in the late eighties early nineties (during Delors’ first term). However, it is unfair to compare these two realities, since the circumstances (domestic and international) and the issues on the table are hardly the same. Nowadays, the time and issues at stake are particularly suitable for intergovernamentalism and the President of the Commission cannot rely on the drive of the so-called French-German engine. Furthermore, sometimes a “quiet diplomacy” could be an important asset in an Europe where many states have a “nationalist” drive.

As regards specifically the Euro crisis, and the Commission’s role in crisis’ response, the institution has in fact managed to be involved in most of the important stages of the process of reform. It is true that the Commission was frequently criticized, for example, for being the “advocate of the creditor countries”. This criticism apparently confirmed the Commission’s weakness. However it is questionable whether this move was truly a result of the Commission’s weakness, or was instead a strategic bid to enhance its powers. As you know the Commission was given an unparalleled power to intervene in member states’ economic and financial policies. In a way, we could ask if the Commission’s actions during the Eurozone crisis could reveal the institution’s ability to adjust to a particularly challenging environment (with important institutional shifts). That being said, it is also a fact that the Commission’s political dimension and status seem to have come out of this crisis weakened (or at least not reinforced).

Finally, I honestly don’t know if Europe is better after the Euro crisis. I guess that for the immediate time it is not. The growing financial and economic turmoil putted into test not only the economic governance, but also the ties that bind together the member-states. Particularly, the apparent excessive concern of some political leaders with measures that could pass the scrutiny of their own national electorates endangered the principle of solidarity and the common interest. But, on the other hand, some structural reforms are in place and, as I said, the Commission gained new important powers. How the new Commission use these powers and how they will contribute to the strengthening of the integration process remains to be seen.

Anna VisviziAssociate Professor, DEREE – The American College of Greece

Departing Barroso sees EU stronger after euro debt crisis

If the above is Barroso’s private perception of the status quo, let it be. However, if one tried to devise a workable definition of what ‘stronger EU’ actually is, then the above statement proves to be either wishful thinking or represents a purposeful attempt of stylizing Barosso’s legacy.

In either case, consider this: Does the ailing state of the European economies suggest that the EU got stronger? Does the instability at the EU’s frontiers advocate the same? Has the EU’s oblivious response to Putin’s breach of international law been a case proving the EU’s improved capability as a regional player? In the same context, what happened to the EU’s claims to ‘normative power’?

From a different angle, although a remarkable progress has been achieved as regards the structure of economic governance in the Eurozone, the real challenge will be the implementation and efficient surveillance thereof.  It is also uncertain whether the resultant differentiated integration (i.e. co-existence of several layers of integration vis-à-vis the euro and economic governance) is a manifestation of a certain normalcy in the integration process or (rather) suggests a new EU malaise.

To be fair, of course, Barosso prides himself in being able to collect the EU’s Nobel peace prize in 2012. But does it enough to counterbalance the above arguments? Does it fill the investors, citizens, politicians with inspiration, trust and confidence about the EU’s future? – I doubt it.

Aldis Austers, Fellow Researcher, Latvian Institute of International Affairs

As to your question, to my mind, the euro debt crisis is far from over. Look at Germany’s economic performance – it is in a recession!!! And so is the whole euro zone. You cannot act in neo-mercantilist style for a long, as it will backfire sooner or later. Moreover, even though the fiscal discipline side has been put in order, the euro zone still lacks instruments of balanced growth throughout the whole zone. The peripheral countries are suffocating from the lack of investment. What’s more, the mistrust of German government towards the European Union’s institutions has resulted in much weakened European Commission and other EU bodies. The intergovernmentalism is on rise in the European Union now. This is not good news nor for European project, nor for small EU member states. Mr. Barroso likes bold statements, however, his personality is not a match to such leaders as Angela Merkel.

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