EU must go British way, says Barroso

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Oct 9, 2004
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EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso, a close ally of Blair and Bush in the Iraq War, gives strong backing for the British stance in the EU and condemnation of French protectionist policies.



The Times October 24, 2005

'We cannot hide. EU must accept globalisation or we are nothing'
From Anthony Browne in Brussels


José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, speaks exclusively to The Times before 25 heads of government gather for Thursday’s vital summit



EUROPE will become “nothing” if it fails to meet the challenge of globalisation and succumbs instead to the demands for protectionism and xenophobia that are sweeping the Continent, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, has said.

In terms that will be seen as strong backing for the British stance and condemnation of French protectionist policies, Senhor Barroso called on all “civilised and rational” people to fight the kind of populism that is opposed to free markets and to embrace globalisation rather than turn Europe into a fortress.

He issued his warning in an interview with The Times as European leaders prepare for a summit at Hampton Court Palace on Thursday. Tony Blair, who is the current EU President, has organised the informal summit to try to forge a consensus on the way forward for Europe. There will be no detailed agenda and no official note-takers. Senhor Barroso will present a paper that he describes as a wake-up call. “If the signal we give to our children is ‘Protect yourself — hide under the table because there is globalisation, resist it’ — then we are nothing,” he said in his offices on the top floor of the European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels.

He insisted that Europe was well placed to deal with globalisation. “We have the resources, we have the intelligence, the critical capacity, the civilisation, the history, the human, intellectual and cultural resources. We can cope with it,” he said.

France has led a series of attacks on the Commission’s free-market policies, which have caused chaos in world trade. France and Italy, among others, pushed the Commission into putting up barriers to Chinese textile imports, which led to clothes being piled up at European ports recently. France, Spain and other countries tried to block talks about it because they were concerned about the Commission’s promises to cut farm subsidies. France and Germany also torpedoed an attempt to open the internal market for services in Europe. President Chirac of France denounced “neo-liberalism” as the “new communism” earlier this year.

Senhor Barroso hit back at leaders, including M Chirac, who curry support by denouncing free markets. “There is now a kind of populism from the so-called Right or Left. Because it is against the market, it is against the institutions we have created, it is against some values — of tolerance, for instance — because there is also some kind of xenophobia coming up.”

Although France was clearly the main target of his comments, he insisted that the problem was widespread.

By contrast Senhor Barroso was supportive of the pro-free-trade stance taken by Britain. He called for a united effort to persuade people of the opportunities arising from globalisation: “I believe whether you are from the Right or from the Left, from continental Europe or from Britain, all civilised rational people in Europe should have an ethic of responsibility to explain the things that we are faced with.”

He believes that globalisation and the response to it can give a new sense of purpose to the EU, whose original raison d’être — preventing Germany invading France every few decades — is no longer seen as relevant by its citizens. Polls show that most Europeans now take peace for granted and do not see it as a reason to continue to pool sovereignty.

Far from being past its use-by date, Senhor Barroso insists that the EU is now more needed than it was a decade ago. Rather than being a guarantor of peace, the EU is needed now as a guarantor of stability in an era of rapid globalisation, he said.

Many of the most difficult problems that are facing European countries — such as illegal immigration, avian flu and the impact of the growth of China and India — are global in scale and the EU can deal with them far more effectively than a country can on its own, he insisted.

Last week he proposed the creation of an EU “globalisation fund” to help companies and workers displaced by the increasingly intense global competition. “In this globalised world, even the biggest member states alone will not have the leverage,” he said.

The Commission believes that a new sense of purpose for the EU will help to pull it out of the crises that have been afflicting it since French and Dutch voters rejected the European constitution. The two referendums not only denied the EU its constitution, but exposed the crisis of legitimacy that the EU has with the European public.

The EU is also suffering an economic crisis, with record unemployment, excessive government borrowing and a budget crisis, in which countries have failed to agree the next seven-year budget. But Senhor Barroso urged people to keep the problems in perspective. “How was Europe sixty years ago? Holocaust. Thirty years ago? Southern Europe including my country was dict atorships. No freedom. I couldn’t read the books I wanted. Fifteen years ago? Central and Eastern European countries were under totalitarian regimes. Ten years ago, you had the massacres in the Balkans. Is our situation today worse or better? Let’s put things in perspective,” he said. “It is the first time in history we have 25 countries living in peace.”

Senhor Barroso played his own part in Europe’s transformation when in 1974, as an 18-year-old Maoist activist, he helped to overthrow Portugal’s military dictatorship, even setting fire to his university rector’s car in protest. Since then, he has travelled across the political spectrum, transforming himself into a centre-right leader, committed to free markets and liberty. He has been a close ally of President Bush and Mr Blair in the war on Iraq.

Aides compare him to Margaret Thatcher, not so much for his economics as his sleeping patterns — he gets by on only a few hours a night. With his talk of deregulation, free markets and liberty, he has been portrayed as a closet Anglo-Saxon. He is close to Mr Bush and last week he became the first Commission President to be welcomed to the White House for 16 years. “But I don’t want my work to appear as Anglo-Saxon. I am pro- European,” he said.

RISE TO POWER



1956 born in Lisbon


1980 joined the Social Democratic Party

1985 won parliamentary seat, promoted to Foreign Minister


1999 party leader


2002 wins general election to become Prime Minister


2003 hosted Azores summit with President Bush and Tony Blair on eve of Iraq war


2005 President of the European Commission
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