Barroso fears UK Independence Party will beat Conservatives in next year’s European elections
European Commission president accuses some of threatening to take Europe ‘back to isolation’
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in Strasbourg yesterday. Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters.
The Eurosceptic UK Independence Party will beat the Conservatives in next year’s European Parliament elections in Britain because voters “prefer the original to the copy”, European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has warned.
Mr Barroso also accused those demanding the repatriation of powers from Brussels – notably London – of threatening to take Europe “back to isolation: the pre-integrated Europe of the divisions, the war, the trenches” of the first World War.
In an extraordinary attack in the European Parliament, Mr Barroso told Conservative MEPs: “Your party is looking like Ukip. I have some doubts whether you are going to be elected in Britain or if it is not Ukip that will be the first force in British elections.
“Because when it comes to be against Europe, people prefer the original to the copy. That is probably why they are going to vote for [Ukip leader, Nigel] Farage. I don’t say this with any kind of satisfaction because, although we have our differences, we have worked together in many areas with the Conservatives.”
Mr Barroso’s intervention, which will be exploited by Ukip in the run-up to the elections next May, has angered London, with No 10 Downing Street saying that no one should “second-guess” British voters.
“The right thing to do is to focus on the need for fundamental change to a more flexible, adaptable and open European Union, ” British prime minister David Cameron’s spokesman said with a degree of irritation.
Meanwhile, the Conservative Party made its own comments, saying that support for EU membership in Britain is wafer-thin: “The EU needs fundamental change. This underlines why we need a strong result at next year’s European elections for David Cameron and the Conservatives.”
An election victory would strengthen Mr Cameron’s hand in negotiations with Brussels and other EU states: “If Ukip do well, Brussels will ignore the outcome. Ukip are all talk when it comes to the EU. Only Conservatives will deliver change and a referendum,” the party went on.
In his speech, Mr Barroso said the biggest risk faced by the European Union five years after the economic crisis is the lack of political will among its member states, warning that significant challenges remain. National governments must work to ensure a fragile European economic recovery is maintained, said the commission president, whose term of office ends next year: “There is no way back to business as usual.”
The five-year crisis has exposed deep structural flaws in the EU, he said, adding that each of the states and the EU itself will have “to shape a new normal”, he said.
Unemployment, at 26 million, is “economically unsustainable, politically untenable and socially unacceptable”, he said, adding that countries that shy away from implementing major reforms will suffer.
“Now is the time to rise above truly national interests and parochial values. In this phase of the crisis, a government’s job is to provide certainty and predictability that markets still lack,” he continued.
“Over the last years we have seen that anything that casts doubt on a government’s commitment to reform is instantly punished,” he told MEPs.
Referring to Ireland, he said the country has been able to draw money from capital markets since 2012, the economy is expected to grow for the third year in a row and industrial employment is on the up.