Barroso has been labelled, at best, as an ‘honest broker’ or, at worst, as ‘king for a day’ manipulated by national governments of this or that capital. But the intentions that he has revealed have been more realistic and often more reasonable than those of his predecessor, Romano Prodi.
Prodi’s weak legacy
Five years of ‘government’ under Prodi have reduced the political weight and credibility of the Commission to minimal terms. The institution that constantly drew us towards a deeper and more wide-reaching political integration, even in a federal sense at times, has practically disowned itself, performing a purely marginal role in the workings of the Convention on the future of Europe. One just has to think back to the Constitution project dubbed “Penelope”, which failed due to indifference.
The competition with Washington for international business, impressively interpreted by the superb technocrat, Pascal Lamy, would have warmed the hearts of some of the conformists, but has not strengthened, or lessened, the protectionist resolve on both sides. Today, both the European Union and the United States, rather than opening up, seem increasingly to be constructing strongholds based on steel and agricultural subsidies, from which shop the poorest of the developing countries.
And then we have the unforgettable words of the former Culture Commissioner, Viviane Reding, who on more than one occasion has sung the praises of China as an example of cultural diversity, tossing aside the numerous reports sent to Brussels by several NGOs that mourn the repression and heavy sinization of entire regions such as Tibet and East Turkistan.
If there were a way of experiencing the five most intense years in European history since the end of the Second World War, yet without leaving any sort of positive legacy, not one foothold, ‘the Commission which wanted to be a government’ would provide exactly that.
Democracy and Atlanticism: a shift by Barroso
The Barroso Commission has yet to demonstrate its potential. However, in an interview with the BBC just a few hours after the vote of confidence from the European Parliament, the new President laid to rest the differences between the Prodi Commission and those – such as the Irish - who rejected the incomprehensible Treaty born during an all-nighter in Nice. In keeping with his declarations, Barroso asserted that it is better for himself and other European leaders to deal with the problems caused by the rejection of Giscard’s ‘constitutional’ Treaty than censure the free choice of popular consultation.
In terms of transatlantic relations, Barroso seems to have understood that the neo-Gaullist doctrine of multilateralism, championed in the last five years by the Latin duo, Prodi-Solana, runs exactly opposite to the logic that brought about the creation of the European Union. When we discuss the resolution of the critical issues of our time, from environmental disaster to terrorism, from sustainable development to the reduction of poverty, Europe cannot seriously hope to think or act single-handedly, but needs to collaborate with the United States. The fundamental, but not compromised, conclusion of these analyses is the prospect of a United States of Europe and America that visualises a Western world united in the defence and promotion of the basic rights of liberty and democracy. For now, it is crucial to establish that for the new President of the Commission there is no more room for checks and balances, but only for the competence and willpower to resolve the problems of our time.
Barroso’s chosen approach is therefore a pragmatic one, but not one free of ideals. The almost Sartre-esque statements of ‘engagement’ of the previous Commission are beginning to fade away, but the new Commission’s cautiousness and pro-Americanism is seen by some as a sign of weakness. Let us hope that Barroso goes beyond making statements and that in his choices over the next five years proves himself to be somebody that, as the journalist Enrico Rufi reminds us, even in this impossible Europe has the sense to be just, with the wisdom and pragmatism of Camus, rather than flawed with the over-ambitious existentialism of Sartre.