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Barroso's state of the union speech 'misses the mark'

It is always frustrating to see a political speech that misses the mark. Last Wednesday's (11 September) 'State of the union' speech by Barroso was one such occasion. Rather than give a clear outline of the challenges currently before the European Union, Barroso resorted to a shopping list of policy initiatives that occurred during his time in charge of the commission.

I say 'occurred during his time' because, over the last three to four years, it has been noticeable how little the European commission has directly influenced the major steps taken by the European Union. In fact, one of the key legacies of Barroso's time in charge has been the reduction of his institution's role. Too many times the commission has stood passively on the sidelines as the big decisions were made by big countries through old fashioned inter-governmentalism. This is particularly true of the EU response to the economic crisis.

The consequence of this sidelining is still being felt around Europe. Four years of austerity-only policies have shaken citizens and undermined their faith in the European Union. Record unemployment, particularly among the young, stalled growth, and political polarisation is its legacy. One can't help thinking that Barroso's passivity was in part shaped by his party political allegiances. Coming from the same political family as German chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, and, in the past, Sarkozy and Berlusconi, seems to have had significant bearing on policy choices.

In his speech, Barroso completely disregarded the human and social impact of the crisis. Instead he attempted to build a case that austerity-only policies were leading to a recovery. Any talk of economic recovery without a clear reference to the ongoing struggles of millions of Europeans is insensitive in the extreme. It speaks to a politician more concerned with the building of his image rather than one who is connected to the needs of Europeans.

Lip service was (again) made to the political and social union as separate pillars for completing the European social model, but (again) there were no concrete proposals.

In his response in the European parliament, S&D group president Hannes Swoboda highlighted the loss of citizens' trust. He said that we must address the deterioration of the European social model due to the years of austerity. I couldn't agree more.

It is time for the European commission to be renewed - something that the Party of European Socialists (PES) will make central to the next European election campaign. One simple way that we can do this is to ensure that the voters feel that they finally have a say in who 'runs Europe'. We are proud to say that the PES will have a democratically selected 'common candidate' to head up the elections. This person will have the full backing of the PES member parties. It will allow us to fight these elections on a platform that asks for citizens to join us, and help us to turn the EU into something that fights for them.

One interesting afterthought: in the follow-up to his speech it was amusing to see Barroso try to claim credit for the 'common candidate' process ahead of the European elections. This process has been painstakingly developed by the PES since 2009! What a perfect microcosm of a commission presidency bereft of original ideas, yet content to claim credit for the ideas of others.

Article published in "The Parliament Magazine"

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