Brussels, 21/10/2014 (Agence Europe) – In Strasbourg on Tuesday 21 October, unsurprisingly yet unenthusiastically, the EPP and ALDE groups praised the heritage of José Manuel Barroso's two terms at the helm of the European Commission, countered by criticism from the S&D, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL Groups.
Opening the debate, Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, said: “I suppose that this will be the last meeting of your college within our hemicycle. We will know more by tomorrow lunchtime”. He pointed out that the collaboration between the Parliament and the Commission had been marked by “tension”, but had also been fed into by “good sportsmanship”.
José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, first of all pointed out that the institutional crisis had been resolved by the Treaty of Lisbon. He welcomed Ukraine's signature and ratification of the association agreement. He called for a political solution on energy issues. He then referred to the sovereign debt crisis (“we were on the edge of a cliff, we have avoided a Greek exit from the eurozone”). He stressed the progress in economic governance and repeated the need to continue on the path of structural reform and ensure ambitious levels of investment. The euro is stable and credible, but we need to do more for growth, he added, going on to say that he had stood before the European Parliament on more than 100 occasions. “We have a good set of results”, Barroso summed up.
Manfred Weber (EPP, Germany) hailed Barroso as a “European of conviction, who respects the Parliament. We have had a good Commission President”. Europe is more democratic and is a leading light in the fight against climate change, said Weber. He said that Barroso could have been “more aggressive” when calling certain states to reason. “The results are impressive”, he concluded.
Gianni Pittella (S&D, Italy) referred to a “critical results sheet”. “Our continent is overrun by unemployment and we have experienced deflation. Anti-European movements have never been so strong”, said Pittella, arguing that there have been serious errors of economic policy. Pittella spoke out against austerity policy: “we have reduced investments, the member states have undermined their own futures and the transition to a knowledge-based society”. The Stability Pact has not been a growth pact, he regretted. Among the positive points, he stressed the fight against climate change, trade policy, the launch of industrial policy, competition policy and the internal market.
“We prefer to look to the future and we disagree with you on many issues”, said Syed Kamall (ECR, United Kingdom). “You have not heeded concerns about EU integration. You started off with an institutional crisis, but you did not listen to the concerns of the French and the Dutch”. “There are still banks which are considered too large to fail and the taxpayers' money had to be used. More transparency would have been preferable”, Kamall added.
“We agree with you in general and on many points”, said Pavel Telicka (ALDE, Czech Republic). He criticised Barosso over his lack of “leadership”: we have had the impression that at difficult times, the Commission has not made sufficient use of its right of initiative. The power of initiative has sometimes been in Paris or Berlin, whilst the Commission has remained in the shadows.
Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE/NGL, France) said that Barroso spoke only in himself of his speech, “but said very little about the millions of people hit by unemployment, poverty and austerity”. In ten years, “you have succeeded in making the idea of Europe hated, due to your great determination to hand major public sectors over to the private sector or to deregulate railways, energy, postal services and put the management of the single currency to the service of speculation, instead of giving priority to employment and productive, environmentally friendly investment”, Le Hyaric continued. He also accused Barroso of having helped to make private debts into public debts, of having rejected the European minimum wage project and the extension of the maternity leave directive, and of having refused to make positive changes to the seconded workers directive. He also hit out at the large transatlantic market.
Philippe Lamberts (Greens/EFA, Belgium) said that the means of action used in the crisis had been deaf to inequality, insensitive to environmental challenges and blind to the requirement for democratic legitimacy. He also reproached Barroso for his failure to make Europe “the champion of the world in low consumption of resources and energy”. He criticised the blackmail brought to bear by the financial markets and multinationals. “25% of Europeans are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, that is 4% more than five years ago. Where are growth and the reduction of public debt?”, Lamberts concluded.
“We have been trading blows at the European Parliament for ten years”, said Nigel Farage (UKIP), who went on to rib the Commission president about his “active Maoist past” (our translation throughout). (LC)