Borrell manages to rub people up the wrong way

Article published on Sept. 21, 2004
community published
Article published on Sept. 21, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Things are going well for Borrell, but the recently elected President of the European Parliament has the gift of arousing passions which are not always in his favour

Contrary to certain sectors of the European ‘intelligentsia’, Spain was not at all surprised when, rather oddly, the Euro-deputy Josep Borrell was elected President of the European Parliament for his first mandate in Strasbourg. By contrast, the Catalonian, Spanish and European media had in common their congenital hostility towards this native of Lérida, in the Catalonian Pyrenees. The son of a baker, a scholarship student and volunteer in a kibbutz during the 1960s, Borrell was recently classed as a “little bureaucrat” by Cohn-Bendit (Le Monde du 14 juillet) following his election as President. The representative of the pacifist Greens would apparently have preferred a pro-Iraq war, neo-liberal like Geremek rather than a Socialist who places the bar to the Left, on the pretext that the Pole would become “a historical figure”. All this reduces the election of the President of the European Parliament to a competition between old heavy-weights like Cohn-Bendit.

Borrell has always proved to be a controversial figure. Catalonian nationalists detest him as they find it unbearable that a socialist politician, who identifies himself completely with Spain and its Constitution, has a Catalonian name and speaks better Catalan than most nationalists: Borrell is living proof of the compatibility between Spanish and Catalan identities. Borrell has also had to deal with jealousy and mistrust from within his own party as well as the negative press brought about by his eagerness to instigate tax progressiveness and fight against fraud. These progressive economic policies, which he carried out with rigour during his passage to the post of Secretary of State to Finances, did not endear him to the more wealthy social classes. Borrell, a politician equipped with great technical skill and a strong social democratic ideological fibre, would never appeal to the Right. Apparently however, and rather unusually, he does not appeal to certain Europeans on the fashionable left.

Without speaking about the elastic character of the term "small bureaucrat" within the confines of the European Union, when Cohn-Bendit referred in this manner to Josep Borrell perhaps he forgot that Jean Monnet, considered as one of the initiators of the European project, was a ministerial adviser. It is rather curious to see eighty-year-olds recycled as members of Parliament, to regard previous ministerial courses as wrong and to preach in favour of a representative of neo-liberalism.

In addition to other Greens and liberals, Cohn-Bendit was not the only journalist to attack Borrell. A leading article of the same vein as his was printed in the conservative daily newspaper The Times (of Malta) on July 29th 2004, underlining the fact that Borrell "is known to be a critic of American foreign policy", and that he "used the war in Iraq to beat

his opponent: one of the rare men of a certain stature in the European Parliament, Polish Bronislaw Geremek ".

Cohn-Bendit and Bush in agreement

Borrell is undoubtedly the only person capable of joining the United States and Cohn-Bendit in the same camp. Indeed, it cannot be good news for the White House that the leader of the largest parliamentary assembly of the world is a Socialist and a convinced European. This is even clearer when we see that Borrell is in favour of reinforcing the military capacity of the Union European on the margins of NATO, opposed to the war in Iraq and committed to néo-liberal globalisation. Nevertheless, this eternal outsider, who has been unceasingly rejected by the political apparatus, the ageing European powerbase, the establishment and by the elite in general, has proved that he is a born survivor. But if he maintains his current position, he will undoubtedly continue to disturb all and sundry.