The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has been spelling out his political ambitions for the next five years. A candidate for reelection as president, Barroso is attempting to gain the support of politicians in the European Parliament. He spoke to euronews about his priorities, which include tackling the financial crisis and the safeguard of public services.
Euronews: In your plan for the European Commission over the next five years, you focus a lot on the economic question. How do you think Europe is going to get over the crisis?
Barroso: Well, that’s the priority. It’s the main worry of our citizens, and I think we have to organise now how to get over the crisis. But before that, we have to maintain the economic stimulus plans. Even if it is true that there is already some good news here and there, I think it’s too early to speak about the end of the recession.
Euronews: You speak about supporting consumer demand, but at the same time the fight against unemployment. But how can that be achieved?
Barroso: There is an effort to be made on a national level, but I believe that on a community level we can also use and adapt the tools at our disposal, especially social funds. For example, I’ve made proposals for the suspension of cofinancing by states during this period, as there are some states that don’t have the ability at the moment to give more aid to fight unemployment. And I believe that in the short term, that’s what we can do with the tools at our disposal. In the medium term, we must invest in new sources of growth, innovation, energy. I’ve proposed a super network of energy connections for Europe. So, invest in the sustainability of Europe’s industrial base.
Euronews: What do you think about the ideas coming out of Britain, France, Germany, for the G20? Do you think we’re on the right road: fighting against tax havens and coming to the point of threatening them? Is that a good signal that Europe wants to send out?
Barroso: Please allow me, perhaps with only a little bit of modesty, to say that the commission had already launched proposals. Unfortunately the member states didn’t notice them. For example, in 2004, we made a recommendation to fight against excessive renumeration, against everything that we now call bonuses. At the time, no one followed these recommendations. And with regards to the fight against tax havens, the commission has been fighting against these for the past 30 years. 30 years! But the truth is that there hasn’t been a consensus, and today we’ve done more in the past few months than we have in the past 30 years. This is thanks to the movement that we launched at the G20 with the Americans as well, which put pressure on certain tax havens.
Euronews: Do you think that financial services should have more liberty of movement?
Barroso: Financial services and products are important. They create a lot of jobs in Europe. But they have to come under the control of regulations that are credible. And, it’s true, we have seen some behaviour that is against all ethics. We have seen this.
Euronews: And yet your commission often advocated the free circulation of those products.
Barroso: No, we are … it’s a right, an obligation of the Treaty of Rome: the free circulation of capital in Europe, services, goods and people. We are in favour of freedom, but regulated freedom. And that’s what we are in the process of doing. Because now, we have the right conditions for consensus. It was me who took the initiative to demand a report from the group headed by Larosière.
Euronews: European citizens are increasingly worried by what we call liberalism, the excesses of liberalism. Do you think the European Commission should create a framework directive for the protection of public services?
Barroso: In the Lisbon Treaty, there are already very clear provisions about the defence and guarantee of public services. I believe that public services fulfil an essential function in our model of a European society. I am ready to hold discussions with the European Parliament on what is the best way to guarantee this protection and the specificity of public services, while of course respecting Europe’s internal market. Where we have some reservation is when we are faced with attempts at what can turn out to be a kind of renationalisation, a fragmentation of the internal market.
Euronews: When and how are you ready to talk to the European Parliament? Because for certain groups in the European Parliament, it’s something important, the protection of public services.
Barroso: Next week I’m going to hold discussions with those political groups that have invited me, to talk about the important issues over the next five years.
Euronews: Are you prepared to make concessions?What kind of concession could you make on …
Barroso: It’s not a question of concessions. I’m trying to have the biggest ambition that I can, but something realistic. Afterwards, we can have support between the different political forces in the parliament.
Euronews: But when they speak to you about the services with general interests, the necessity to protect them with a directive, a framework directive against the risks of competition and liberalisation, how are you going to respond?
Barroso: That is something I’m going to discuss with the different political forces. In the document that I’ve just presented to the European Parliament, I say that we must protect the public services as something very important, especially public services with social interests. Let me be very clear about this: this is my political line, the general line. Now, how can we do this from the normative point of view? This still has to be discussed with the different political forces. I want to be sure that it’s something that works.
Euronews: Do you think that Europe should propose a carbon tax at a European level?
Barroso: The member states are very divided on that and I think that, for the moment … and even political forces are very divided. There are political forces who are in favour, others in the parliament who are against. I think that now we must concentrate on the most ambitious results possible for Copenhagen. Afterwards, we are going to look at the possibility of introducing other measures of protection. That said, you know, taxes in Europe, it’s very difficult, because there has to be unanimity.
Euronews: On illegal immigration, do you think that – besides the recent controversies with the European Commission and certain member states – that there are some countries, member states, that have been left out of the picture? With regards to this problem, we’re mostly talking about countries in southern Europe.
Barroso: We’ve always said – even me, actually -that the problem of immigration is not only a problem for countries that receive illegal immigrants, it’s a problem for the whole of Europe. This is what I’ve said in Italy, in Malta, in Spain. And the proposals that we’ve come up with, together with member states, is precisely along the lines of solidarity. There are illegal immigrants who enter, sometimes through Malta, but their objective is not only to stay in Malta: it’s to get into the whole European community. I think that more solidarity is possible and necessary. And Commissioner Barrot has even just come up with very concrete proposals in terms of redeployment so that member states can help each other out. But it’s a domain for the member states, for people who want to be welcoming others into their territory.
Euronews: One last question. Do you think you will get your second mandate as president of the European Commission?
Barroso: The truth is that my name is the only one that’s emerged up until now. I’ve had the support of all the states, of a mixture of political colours, and this is very important. I think that this is not the time for partisan division in Europe, but to fight for the party of Europe – and the commission is the party of Europe. I have a very European programme and so I believe that I will have a clear majority in the parliament. Also, I’ve worked very well with the parliament over the past five years.
Euronews: A clear majority with the vote of the eurosceptics as well?
Barroso: I would mostly like to have the support of pro-Europeans. My programme is very European.