Good morning, and welcome to Debating Europe’s liveblog of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s “State of the Union Address”!
This is Barroso’s third State of the Union, so we all know the routine by now: he will deliver his speech to the European Parliament at 9 o’clock, followed by a debate with the leaders of the political groups and other members of the European Parliament. There is already a game of ‘Buzzword’ Bingo taking place in the blogosphere, as well as a bit of pre-speech commentary.
You can watch the debate live on EbS (including translation).
The text from President Barroso’s speech today is now online here.
It looks like the live-stream is now off, so I guess that’s all folks! Thanks for following.
Now: all eyes turn to the Dutch elections (where the eurosceptic parties seem to be behind in the latest polls) and the news that the German Constitutional Court has approved the bail-outs as constitutional.
As euroblogger Ronny Patz has pointed out previously, Mr Barroso’s speeches tend to be much more lively when he’s speaking off the cuff and without notes in front of him. His response to MEPs today is an example of that.
Barroso shows his frustration with eurosceptics in the Parliament with an attack on Nigel Farage for being unable to get a single MP elected at the national level. He calls for “pro-European forces” to put aside their differences and avoid “wasting too much energy” on attacking each other.
President Barroso defending the Single Currency:
No, it was not the euro [that caused the crisis]. Britain is putting more money than any other member into propping up its banks.
What happened to avoiding European politics as a “boxing match”?
The text from President Barroso’s speech today is now online here.
President Barroso is now responding to his critics. He argues that he has support “at least from the most relevant pro-European forces” in the European Parliament.
He then hits back at Verhofstadt and Cohn-Bendit’s criticism by arguing that he has put forward a vision that balances “realism” with “ambition”, and that “ambitions without results are simply good intentions”.
He also echoes Andrew Duff by saying he “hopes we don’t engage in semantic discussions”.
Interesting point made by Peter Spiegel, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, about Barroso’s use of the F-Word:
The former Portuguese prime minister eventually became a British-backed candidate for the post after the Franco-German candidate, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, was rejected by London because he was considered too federalist. In other words, Barroso got the job largely because he WASN’T a federalist…
In other words, Barroso’s sudden embrace of federalism – even in a limited capacity – is a marked shift for him, and one that signals a big battle ahead during what inevitably will be a major rewrite of EU treaties that could wreak havoc across Europe’s political scene.
British Liberal Democrat MEP Andrew Duff now gently rebuffing his group leader, Guy Verhofstadt, and saying we should work towards federalism generally and shouldn’t get bogged down in “semantics”.
Broadly speaking, there are three sets of opinion on display this morning as to the best way out of the crisis. There are those following President Barroso’s lead and calling for “step by step” progress towards a “Federation of Nation-States”; there are those (like Cohn-Bendit and Verhofstadt) who argue that this doesn’t go far enough and we need a “Post-National Federation”; and, finally, there are those voices (largely, though not exclusively, coming from the UK) that believe we need to abandon the euro and return to a Europe of Nations. Tellingly, nobody seems to be defending the status-quo as sustainable.
How clear is the distinction between these viewpoints to the average European citizen? Are we likely to see, as President Barroso calls for, a genuine European debate take place on these issues before the European elections in 2014?
President Barroso has just been congratulated for his “Very professional speech.”
Is that a compliment?
Looking at the commentary on Twitter, the highlight of this year’s State of the Union Address from Barroso seems to be:
Let’s not be afraid of the word: we will need to move towards a federation of nation states
And, so far, the highlight from the debate has been the spat between Daniel Cohn-Bendit and William Legge, 10th Earl of Dartmouth.
Cheeky comment from journalist Georgi Gotev on Twitter just now:
Garielle Zimmer of the United Left (GUE/NGL) makes such a boring speech that I cannot find anything quotable.
Is there a clear distinction between a “Post-National Federation” and a “Federation of Nation-States”, and do European citizens really want either of them? This might be an interesting question for a future debate.
Nigel Farage calls Barroso’s vision for a “Federation of Nation-States” an “emerging, creeping euro-dictatorship”, and argues that:
The only good news from today is that you’ve helped to bring that referendum just a little bit closer.
The debate is turning out to be much more lively than Barroso’s State of Europe itself.
Nigel Farage, co-chair of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group, points out that the UK left the ERM 20 years ago this week, but that the lesson of this move has been lost because of “fanaticism”.
Martin Callanan, Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists group now attacking President Barroso’s speech and calling for some countries to leave the euro as the only way to end the crisis.
Cohn-Bendit is asked a question by William Legge, 10th Earl of Dartmouth, an MEP with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP):
Why can’t you understand that federalism, European regulations and the wasteful, wasted European budgets are no cure for the European disease, they are the cause of the European disease?
Cohn-Bendit responds in English:
Why can’t you understand that in 30 years none of the European member-states, neither the UK nor the Germany, will be part of the G8. Can’t you, Mr Earl, understand the modern world?
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-president of the green group in the European Parliament, is now talking. A summary of the blame-game so far:
Barroso blames the member-states
Verhoefstadt blames the member-states and Barroso
Cohn-Bendit blames everybody
Barroso has been blaming member-states for the crisis, whilst Verhofstadt is now laying some of the blame firmly on Barroso’s doorstep for not being assertive enough.
Verhofstadt warns that the action from Draghi will only buy us 5 or 6 months before the crisis returns. He believes that Barroso’s “step by step” approach towards a federation of nation-states is not enough (and he’s not even satisfied with the ultimate destination).
Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt has his turn to speak now. You would think he would support Barroso’s call for a “federation of nation-states” (seeing as he’s been calling for federalism for many years now).
However, he is scathing in his criticism, arguing that a “federation of nation-states” is what we have already. Instead, Verhofstadt believes:
We need a post-national future for Europe… A federal union of European citizens
Swoboda agrees with Barroso that there needs to be a new treaty:
After the elections, we can have a convention. The convention can take a decision on a constitution for Europe.
Are we going to see a repeat lengthy and protracted process that eventually led to the Lisbon Treaty (and satisfied few)?
Shots of the parliament chamber show a fair number of empty seats at the State of the Union address today. That might explain the slightly subdued applause today. Perhaps it’s a wee bit early in the morning?
Glowing praise of European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi coming from Swoboda:
The only institution that has done anything to stop the crisis has been the ECB. If we hadn’t had the ECB, we would be in far deeper trouble than we are now. If we hadn’t had the person in charge that we do, the disaster in Europe would be far greater.
Now Hannes Swoboda, President of the group of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, is talking. He thanks Barroso for a “very good speech”, but argues that the current set of policies is “making the poor poorer”.
Joseph Daul agrees with Barroso’s vision, doesn’t go quite as far as breaking the taboo and calling directly for a “Federal Union”. Instead, he’s in favour of “More Europe”.
Joseph Daul now arguing that:
Some member-states would really like to see the euro go under, but I wouldn’t like to give them this pleasure.
Does this count as one of Barroso’s “boxing events“?
Now the political leaders in the European Parliament are talking. Chairman of the centre-right EPP group, Joseph Daul, is now thanking President Barroso for his speech and also agreeing with his “realistic” vision.
And the speech is over.
Barroso’s vision is for European integration to proceed “step by step… with a federation as a horizon for Europe.”
President Barroso has adopted a fairly calm method of address this morning, but the parts of this speech delivered with the most passion have been:
a) When he has been criticising member-states
b) At the very end, when he delivered a genuinely impassioned (though occasionally slightly fumbled) argument that federalism is a realistic and achievable goal, and rather it is the current path that is unrealistic
Barroso is setting up the 2014 elections as a defining debate for the EU, saying:
We must use the 2014 election to mobilise all pro-European forces.
Much of the content of this address has been said before, but Barroso’s call for a federal union is being put very strongly here:
The present European Union must be evolve. Let’s not be afraid of the words… Creating this federation of nation-states will ultimately require a new treaty.
Barroso promising that a “true European debate” will take place before the 2014 elections, with the Commission setting out its blueprint for treaty change and a federal EU ahead of the vote.
Oh no you didn’t! Barroso uses the ‘F’ word!
Today, I call for a federation of nation states, not a superstate.
Barroso now making reference to “worrying developments” in the democracy of some member-states (though he doesn’t mention Romania by name, for example). Argues that the Commission should be more active in preventing this trend.
Barroso saying that:
I would like to see the development of a European public space.
And making an appeal to European thinkers and “men and women of culture” to join this debate, and calling for European political parties.
Barroso now calling for a full fiscal union as the only way to finally end the eurozone crisis. But arguing that:
We do not need to separate or create new institutions.
President Barroso comes out in strong support of ECB President Mario Draghi’s move towards ‘unlimited’ bond buying. Gets the biggest applause of the morning, but even that didn’t exactly bring the house down.
Some reaction to the speech from political parties and groups in the European Parliament.
From the centre-left Socialists:
And the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR):
Some fairly negative commentary of the speech happening on Twitter at the moment:
Quick summary of the speech so far:
European governments have been making the crisis worse because they haven’t understood globalisation, and we need political and economic union to overcome these challenges.
Only scattered applause to this message from the Parliament thus far.
Barroso arguing that member-states have not understood globalisation, and arguing that “even the biggest European countries run the risk of irrelevance”
This is also turning out to be a speech fiercely critical of the behaviour of member-states:
Absolute loyalty is the minimum you demand from your fellow crew members
Barroso putting the boot in to the European Council for their crisis management. He admits the EU has not made progress in addressing the crisis, and argues it is because “Time and again, we have allowed doubts to spread.”
He argues that EU member-state governments have been obsessed with point-scoring:
It’s not acceptable to treat these European meetings as if they were boxing events.
President Barroso now beginning his address.
It’s an honour to stand before you and deliver this third state of the union address at a time when Europe is in crisis.
This is, perhaps, something of a ‘double-edged’ honour (at least, when it comes to Europe being in crisis).
And, we’re off! European Parliament President Martin Schulz is giving his introduction. With elections in the Netherlands (where ‘Europe’ has been a big campaign issue) and the German Constitutional Court due to rule on the legality of the bail-outs, he’s right to say that the world’s media are watching Europe at the moment.