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Reporting EC President José Manuel Barroso’s State of the Union speech to the European Parliament yesterday, the Mirror said that he had said that: “UK hostility to EU may start a war”. The Mail went with: “taking power back from EU risks return to war, says top eurocrat.”
The Sun chose the headline: “EU chief: Cam risking War”. The BBC claimed in some bulletins that Mr Barroso had suggested that “attempts to claw back powers from Brussels” could lead to war.
In fact, Mr Barroso had said in the speech, shortly after the very passage the media had seized on: “I recognize: like any human endeavour, the EU is not perfect. For example, controversies about the division of labour between the national and European levels will never be conclusively ended.”
So to suggest that his speech had said that calling for a change in the balance between European and national competencies would mean war was – to put it mildly – a highly creative interpretation.
What he actually said in the passage that some media seized on was the following:
“Next year, it will be one century after the start of the First World War. A war that tore Europe apart, from Sarajevo to the Somme. We must never take peace for granted. We need to recall that it is because of Europe that former enemies now sit around the same table and work together.
It is only because they were offered a European perspective that now even Serbia and Kosovo come to an agreement, under mediation of the EU. Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize reminded us of that historic achievement: that Europe is a project of peace. We should be more aware of it ourselves.
Sometimes I think we should not be ashamed to be proud. Not arrogant. But more proud. We should look towards the future, but with a wisdom we gained from the past.
Let me say this to all those who rejoice in Europe’s difficulties and who want to roll back our integration and go back to isolation: the pre-integrated Europe of the divisions, the war, the trenches, is not what people desire and deserve. The European continent has never in its history known such a long period of peace as since the creation of the European Community. It is our duty to preserve it and deepen it.”
In another passage, ignored by most of the UK media, the EC President was explicit that:
“Not everything needs a solution at European level. Europe must focus on where it can add most value. Where this is not the case, it should not meddle. The EU needs to be big on big things and smaller on smaller things – something we may occasionally have neglected in the past. The EU needs to show it has the capacity to set both positive and negative priorities. As all governments, we need to take extra care of the quality and quantity of our regulation knowing that, as Montesquieu said, ‘les lois inutiles affaiblissent les lois nécessaires’. [‘Useless laws weaken the necessary ones’.] But there are, honourable members, areas of major importance where Europe must have more integration,more unity. Where only a strong Europe can deliver results.”
There were indeed robust exchanges with the Leader of the European Conservative and Reform Group in the European Parliament, Martin Callanan, and with UKIP leader Nigel Farage after the speech. Both had robustly attacked the Commission and its President, as is their right.
What Mr Barroso said in response to Mr Callanan was:
“Mr Callanan, you said, making a joke about possible competitors for the Commission election, that you are not interested in that job that you are very happy with yours. Let me tell you very frankly that I think even if you were interested you could not have a chance to be elected for President of the Commission. And you know why? I am not saying that happily, because I think increasingly, your party and your group are looking like the UKIP and the Eurosceptic European group. And I start to have some doubts that you are going to be elected yourself in Britain, if it is not UKIP that is going to be the first force in the British elections, because when it comes to being against Europe, the people prefer, between the original and the copy, they prefer the original, that is probably why they are going to vote more for Mr Farage than for Mr Callanan.
And this I don’t say with any kind of satisfaction, because even if we have some differences, we have worked in many areas very constructively with conservatives, the British conservatives and the Conservative group. We have worked together for the internal market, for reform; we have worked together against some kind of regulation; we have worked together in many areas, including free trade.
But this is an important point, I think, because if those forces that are pro-European or even those that are not really pro-European but constructive, have the same speech, the same political attitude of the anti-Europeans, the eurosceptics, the populists, then in that case, they [the populists] will win the next elections……”
Mr Barroso went on to say the following, in a combined reaction to Green leader Rebecca Harms, who had said that the EU was not doing enough to tackle climate change, and to Mr Farage, who had said that “we may have made one of the biggest and most stupid collective mistakes in history by getting so worried about global warming.”
“Mrs Harms, when you say that Europe has done nothing or that in climate change there is zero, come on, let’s be real! Europe is leading in the world in terms of the objective for climate change. About CO2 cars, the proposals that were put forward by the Commission, if you are not satisfied with the solution now, ask the question to the Member States not to the Commission. We are keeping a very strong commitment to climate change.
Mr Farage shows that populists are sometimes obscurantists. 99% of the science, Mr Farage, believes that climate change exists as a result of human activity. 99% of scientists!
Of course there are always people that are paid to say the opposite. But to pretend, as you pretend, that against all science, well established science, that the problem of climate change is just an invention of the Greens, or of the left, is complete nonsense.
Of course we have to find a way; of course we have to find a sensible way to fight climate change. We have to look at the same time for competitiveness in Europe, we have to make this part of our agenda for growth and I believe that the green economy brings many possibilities.
It would be a mistake just to put the case on climate change on environmental matters. That is of course decisive; it’s an existential thing for our planet, the conservation of our planet. But we have to make the case, also in terms of economy, in terms of our health, because in fact we have seen, increasingly, natural disasters that most scientists attribute to climate change. So this is important, and I think that is almost incredible that the leader of one European Parliament group says that it is an invention of some political forces [when it is], something that has been established clearly by science.
I believe in science and I believe part of the solutions for our problems is through more science, more innovation, more research, more technology, and this is the way for Europe to address these problems.”
The full State of the Union speech can be found here and the full debate here