Barroso claims crisis is good for 'project Europe' on eve of summit
Published 17/06/2010 | 05:00
The economic crisis is helping to forge the "European project" of ever-closer union, EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso declared yesterday.
But he denied that the downturn was being used as an excuse to launch a "Brussels power grab" for national economic sovereignty.
Addressing members of the European Parliament on the eve of a summit discussing plans for tight new financial controls on member states, he insisted any measures would be agreed in co-operation with national authorities.
But Mr Barroso admitted it was easier now to push EU leaders into deals when the chips were down.
"Once again, we can see that a crisis can accelerate decision-making when it crystallises political will. Solutions that seemed out of reach only a few years or even months ago are now possible.
"As the history of European construction reminds us, it is usually in times like this, in times of crisis that we can make progress in the European project," Mr Barroso said.
He added: "The reality is that member states are now ready to accept some proposals that some years ago or even some months ago were simply not acceptable."
Only last week, the UK reversed five years of resistance and accepted new commission powers to vet national economic statistics. Financial secretary to Britain's treasury, Mark Hoban, signed up to an accord allowing EU statistical experts to carry out "methodological visits" on national exchequers when necessary.
A British government official explained: "A lot has changed in the last few months, and people are ready to accept some things that they would not have done just a short time ago."
But that stance could be turned on its head at today's summit, when British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to rule out review of the national budget by Brussels before it is presented to the House of Commons.
Mr Cameron was scheduled to meet Mr Barroso this morning to confirm the UK's strong support for economic co-ordination and reform, and its support for a new levy on banks to fund any future need to bail out failing financial institutions -- a move which would take the burden off the taxpayer.
But he was also expected to make clear that London believes that EU measures to shore up the euro's credibility should apply to the 16 eurozone member states, and not the rest.
Crucially, he was expected to repeat UK chancellor George Osborne's message to Brussels -- that Britain would not be submitting its budget details in advance.
Neither would the UK expect to be subject to tougher financial sanctions against countries breaching EU debt and deficit rules originally designed to apply just to the eurozone, Mr Cameron was expected to insist.
The Commission wanted the measures applied across the board, but on the eve of the summit, support was growing for limiting the impact to the single currency area.
German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy have already admitted treaty changes might be necessary to achieve stronger economic governance in Europe, including the tougher sanctions that the summit is to discuss.