Barroso brings tough love to table in Dublin
Barroso is at his most eloquent when defending the European project, such as during his rousing addresses to the plenary sessions of the European Parliament. Ask Barroso to defend the European project, and his response is quick, cogent and logical as he sweeps away the enormous difficulties that have beset the continent.
“Sometimes in the debate this is presented as a crisis of the euro, which it is not. The reality is that countries that are not in the euro are some of the most affected,” he says. “For instance, the country that has done more to mobilise taxpayers’ money in supporting the banks was Britain, not a euro area country. Or let’s not forget the case of Iceland.”
Austerity, he argues, has also been erroneously characterised as a European policy.
“Some people try to link the policy of rigour in public finances to the euro. This is a myth. Britain is having the most restricted budget since the second World War and Britain is not a member of the euro. It’s true that financial stability in the euro area, because of the differences among the 17 countries, raises specific challenges and that is what we have been trying to address.”
According to Barroso, who holds bilateral talks with Enda Kenny today, Ireland’s presidency offers Ireland an opportunity to “make its case” over a restructuring of bad debt. The commission is “supportive of finding a solution for the issue of the promissory notes”, though he stresses that this is an issue for the European Central Bank.
“Generally speaking, the commission has been supportive of all the measures that improve public support for the adjustment programme and reassure financial markets of debt sustainability, in this case Ireland’s debt sustainability. Of course, we are supportive of finding a solution for the issue of the promissory notes.” Welcoming the NTMA’s sale of €2.5 billion of syndicated bonds this week, he believes a full return to the bond markets this year is “critically important”.
“That is one of the objectives, if not the most important objective, of the programme. Ireland is showing that it is possible to go back to the markets.”
Reaching accord on the European budget and Common Agricultual Policy ap negotiations will be among the priorities of the Irish presidency, he says, though he is ambiguous over whether a deal on the Multiannual Financial Framework will be completed by February.
“Yes, I think agreement is possible in February, but positions are still quite divergent. We need an immediate decision,” he says, pointing out that the deal also needs European Parliament approval. Ireland’s special relationship with the US may also play a role in the upcoming EU-US trade talks.
As he marks the start of the EU Year of Citizens today in Dublin, Barroso is keen to reconnect with an increasingly disaffected public. He hints that national governments have a part to play in this regard. “Some national politicians when things go well say that it is their merit, when things go wrong it is the fault of Brussels. Many national politicians have a tendency to nationalise success and to Europeanise failures.
“Europe is not just Brussels. It is Dublin, Galway or Cork. As I’ve said before, Europe cannot be bureaucratic or technocratic or even diplomatic. Europe has to be democratic.”