The shadow of the “no” to the European Constitution still hangs over Jose Manuel Barroso.
In his first interview of the new political season, the President of the European Commission speaks to EuroNews. He calls on the 25 to show more unity in the fields of immigration, energy, defence and external affairs. He sounds a warning to Turkey to respect its engagements with Brussels.
SERGIO CANTONE (Brussels correspondent, EuroNews):
“What are the policies for the citizens of Europe to be introduced by the European Commission in the next few months?”
Jose Manuel Barroso (EU Commission President):
“In terms of concrete initiatives, I can already tell you that during the informal Council at Lahti in Finland, due to be held in October, we are going to present our suggestions for a strongly reinforced policy on innovation in Europe. We are going to table a formal proposal for the creation of a European Institute of Technology. It will be based on a network and hopefully will become a flagship project: a catalyst for research and innovation in Europe. We don’t see research being limited to the universities but being linked with growth, along with the most competitive economies in Europe.
Also we are working on an energy package which we will be putting forward next year.”
EuroNews: “Do you consider that for major decisions on economic reform, the member states might have to move away from a strictly national approach and speak with a more European voice?”
Jose Manuel Barroso: “Both will be needed.
That is exactly what the Lisbon strategy was all about – moving forward on reforms on a national basis but also backed up with measures on a European level. You are right to identify concerns about social issues: measures in the social field will be needed to assist those who may be affected by the effects of the restructuring process. Generally speaking though, we are starting to see the positive effects of some of the reforms. The fact is that we now have a level of growth which is significantly higher than that of recent years. Creation of jobs in Europe this year is running at the best level since statistics started to be collected for the 25 member states. So, Europe is in a much fitter condition today than it was a couple of years ago.”
EuroNews: “Aren’t some of these changes at the price of social achievements? On pensions for example, certain countries have had to undertake reforms which proved to be extremely hard to accept for some people…”
Jose Manuel Barroso: “Undoubtedly there have been problems. But in general I think the most important thing is that we have created more jobs. Unemployment is on average significantly lower than in previous years. That’s very important. I believe we have reasons to be confident now in Europe. Let’s be clear, it may not be enough, we need more growth if employment is to be stimulated even further. But on the whole, it can be objectively stated that Europe is better prepared today than it was two or three years ago, especially in the face of globalization.”
EuroNews: “What will the European Commission be proposing in terms of a common energy policy?”
BARROSO: “Within the European Union, we are trying to explain that it is in the interest of all the member states to avoid fragmentation. It is not rational, and I am choosing my words advisedly, it is not rational to have 25 mini energy markets. We need to use the potential of the single market in the field of energy. It’s also in our interest to speak with a single voice to our other partners, including Russia and other energy producing countries. At the same time we need to tell the Russians that while it’s in our interest for them to be credible suppliers of energy, they should appreciate that in Europe they have a sound and reliable consumer who pays the right price.”
EuroNews: “You are soon to go on a trip to Africa. To what extent is your tour there, and particularly to Sudan, linked to the question of the war against terrorism?”
Jose Manuel Barroso: “Of course everything is linked in the international field today. Actually the main reason for my African journey isn’t the anti-terrorism question, but first of all to meet with the commission of the African Union. Last year we received the whole commission of the African Union and we are going to Addis Abeba to begin a dialogue on a number of questions, among them the issue of immigration. Because that is a problem to which a solution can only be found by working together. We are not going to answer this particular problem with security measures. What we need to look for, is the long term development of the countries where immigrants originate from. I am also going to Sudan because of the extremely grave situation there, in Darfur. I need to talk to the Sudanese authorities and explain clearly our position. A humanitarian tragedy is happening there. We are not there just to show off our presence, we are interested in results. What we need to do together as the European Union, and here the member states are in the front line of responsibility, is to speak together with one voice. Europe can only carry a lot more weight in the world if it has a genuine common foreign policy, which it hasn’t got yet. Or if it has a common defence policy, which it doesn’t have yet either.”
EuroNews: “What are you going to be proposing, and what is the position likely to be taken by the European Commission, in the debate and the process which will be happening from October, on the subject of the European Constitution?”
Jose Manuel Barroso:“I have proposed, and this has been accepted by the European Council, that the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the moment when our community was founded, should be identified as the time when a new impetus could be found. A fresh political statement could be declared which might provide a political context from which the institutional question could follow. However I don’t think we are there yet. Indeed there will be changes in some of the most important member states in our community, notably in France, a country where most people voted “no”. In any case it is a little premature from the Commission’s point of view. We are not proposing any kind of solution because it is not our responsibility. But we do want to help the member states to do it, because this is a treaty between the member states. In the debate with public opinion in the member states to find a solution to the institutional question, I think we are moving forward. This question does have to be resolved. It’s important and urgent but we don’t want another mistake to be made.”
EuroNews: “A final question, Turkey:”
Jose Manuel Barroso: “At the moment, we are not particularly encouraged by the information which we are receiving. I think Turkey needs to understand that it has to comply with its promises and obligations. Among them are the obligations of the Ankara protocol: that is, guaranteeing the access of Cypriot ships into Turkish ports, these are vessels of a member state. At the beginning of November we will be bringing out a report on the state of progress of the negotiations with Turkey. What I can guarantee to you, is that this report will be honest, objective and rigorous.”
EuroNews: “Is it likely that the negotiations could be suspended?”
Jose Manuel Barroso: “I don’t want to anticipate anything at this stage. The report will be honest, very objective and rigorous.”