Blog AnalysisEuropean policy

Barroso hangs his portrait. Goodbye and no regrets

JM Barroso in the presence of JC Juncker unveiling his portrait in the gallery of former Commission Presidents (credit: CE)
JM Barroso in the presence of JC Juncker unveiling his portrait in the gallery of former Commission Presidents (credit: CE)

(BRUSSELS2) After ten years at the head of the Commission, “424 meetings” as he liked to say to the press, José-Manuel Barroso is leaving his post today. Without leaving much regret behind him in fact.

No one says Stay Mr Barroso!

No one, even in his political camp, was quick to say “stay Mr Barroso!” ". On the contrary. However, the man does not lack qualities. He is lucid, intelligent, ambitious. But the former Portuguese Prime Minister did not really put these qualities at the service of Europe. Rather, he sought, each time, to find the compromise, the dodge, which would prevent him from playing the bad role. “ You are the champion of absent subscribers » Green MEP Daniel Cohn Bendit liked to say about him.

Turn around the “European Commission” liner

Apostle of deregulation, and of the minimum possible initiatives during the first part of his mandate, champion of codes of conduct and other modes of self-regulation (which only in very rare exceptions worked), Barroso was taken set back by the financial crisis. The European executive began by firstly denying any effect of the subprime crisis that started across the Atlantic and then spread to the United Kingdom. Then, like a gigantic ocean liner, it took more than a year to turn around, to change ideology, to begin to regulate the financial markets again, under the notable leadership of the Frenchman Michel Barnier, thus remaking the the opposite path that had been taken in previous years.

Keep Greece in the Euro

In Barroso's defense, the member states did not make his task easy. But this data is almost inscribed in the DNA of the European Commission. Indulging in To its credit, the Euro zone has not exploded as the Cassandras still liked to predict two or three years ago. “ Many market observers, economists, academics and politicians bet on the disintegration of the euro zone and the euro. I am proud because the Commission is the only institution which has never hesitated "who has always defended the" Greece's presence in the euro zone ". " We lived through extremely serious times, it was not only Greece, Portugal or Ireland that were threatened, Spain, Italy and even France were under enormous pressure from the markets ».

Successful enlargement

And enlargement was not the disaster predicted. It's even " One of the great successes of the EU to have succeeded in working at 28. When I took office it was considered impossible to work at 25. The Commission worked without difficulty. " All decisions were made by consensus. There has been no distinction within us between New Member States and old Member States ". A tour de force according to him. With a reality. " It’s not the new member states that have caused me the most problems” concedes the person concerned. “I had a lot more problems dealing with other people » concedes the person concerned.


In the end, Barroso awards himself a thumbs up. " Thanks to the new competences for the Commission and the European Central Bank, we now have a stronger and more capable Europe for the future. » Does he just recognize that "that our actions were not perfect". But it is immediately to explain that “This is linked to the complicated decision-making process in Europe. We couldn't move as fast as we wanted.".

All of Barroso's strategy and ambiguity are summed up there: it is never his fault and always those of others. This self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction is more than irritating. If we cannot blame him for the growing euroscepticism, and the negative referendum on the Constitution in 2005 in France as in the Netherlands, his conduct of the last years of crisis, the absence of a clear European project for citizens ( apart from that of austerity), has certainly contributed to widening the gap between citizens and Europe.

We understand why, in Brussels today, everyone wants to turn the “Barroso” page. Looking forward to tomorrow. But Jean-Claude Juncker, Barroso's successor, is expected around the corner. Presenting itself as the “Last Chance Commission” (which is a bit risky in my opinion), it cannot, it must not, disappoint…


NB: Extended version of an article published this morning in Ouest-France


Read also:

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).