Barroso’s heritage: Juncker’s problems

EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

Former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (L) being welcomed by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prior to a meeting the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 26 May 2015.

Barroso’s heritage: Juncker’s problems


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Until recently, problems in Europe, although many, were manageable; they involved the usual issues and few people. Potentially more serious problems were not addressed until the end of the Barroso Commission (October 31, 2014), which was on its way out. Still, emphasis was given to austerity and deficits. Chronic issues, which had become ordinary, were successfully put off by the European Commission under the supervision of the European Central Bank and the cooperation of the Member States.

 By the beginning of 2015, two major problems of Europe, unemployment and immigration, exploded in the hands of the new Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker. The initial shock was followed by the realization that the Commission could not handle these circumstances alone. Furthermore, certain Member States were affected more than others and thus became less cooperative.

These problems, unemployment and immigration, are interdependent. Both quickly turned into threats to the security and, thus, to the political future, of Europe. The dual threat comes from the prospect of two extremes — neo-Nazism and neo-Communism — becoming part of the mainstream political stage.

We have two ways of preventing this situation. The easy way is by increasing the democratic deficit in our societies. The hard way is to evolve and become better, which is difficult because it requires implementing fast and hard changes.

Our course of action should come from recognizing our past mistakes and correcting them without repeating them. Indeed, the claim that history repeats itself is a misperception. It is us that do not learn from history and repeat the same mistakes.

Today, the Juncker Commission can address neither unemployment nor immigration effectively because each one involves millions of people and requires the tolerance and the cooperation of citizens to address such large-scale difficulties. Thus, they require a global approach. This, only the European Commission, in cooperation with the Member States, can do.

However, despite the fact that the President and the Commissioner for immigration are capable and experienced politicians, citizens do not trust the European Commission in general. Indeed, the gap between citizens and the Brussels institutions became unbridgeable because for decades, the Commission spent billions of euros attempting to communicate with Europeans and did the opposite. Europeans know little or nothing about Europe — on the contrary, they are afraid of Europe exactly because they do not know what it is and nobody tells them.

Juncker has serious problems and must address them. Some he can address by himself. Others require more substantial changes.

The possibility of Brexit is a major issue that the President and his College can address. Frankly speaking, I feel that the Juncker Commission should not interfere in this matter. It is not up to the Brussels administration to use European taxpayers’ money to influence the results of the referendum, as it did in Ireland. That is an affair concerning solely the Subjects of Her Majesty.

If the Brits decide to leave the Union, good. If the Union becomes dismembered after a possible BrExit, even better — a new Europe will emerge, uncorrupt and transparent.

For sure, after the traumatic experience of the Old Europe, all countries sharing the same political and social values will participate in a new venture because Europe must stay united. In this case, the United Kingdom will be in.

A second matter President Juncker should address is the relationship between his Commission and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Nowadays Renzi is the strongest political leader in the European Union after Angela Merkel and could easily act as a catalyst in European decision-making, in positive or in a negative way.

Partito Democratico, has serious problems in the domestic front with Movimento 5 Stelle. Thus, the ongoing confrontation between the Italian Prime Minister and Brussels may lead to exaggerations. Renzi is a born politician coming from the motherland of Niccolo’ Machiavelli (Firenze 1469-1527). His first priority is not the European Union, but the consolidation of his party. He should not be given the opportunity to become an asymmetric threat bigger than Brexit, before a potential Brexit occurs.

The Juncker Commission has the political power and the will to address the problems that require citizen involvement: unemployment and immigration. However, it must first restore the broken communication bridge between his Commission, European citizens and the Member States.

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