Wednesday 17 January 2018

Jose's good-news speech dodged all vital issues

Barroso missed an opportunity to address the policy failings behind the eurozone crisis

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Reuters
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. Reuters
EU President Manuel Barroso speaks in the Aula Maxima after receiving his Hon Doctorate from UCC. Photo: Michael MacSweeney/Provision.
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

In accepting a doctorate from University College Cork on Thursday last, the outgoing European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso could have taken the opportunity to reflect on his 10 years at the helm of the European Union's key institution.

It has been, on any dispassionate assessment ,a decade of crisis and under-achievement for the EU, by no means all to be laid at the feet of the commission which he heads. He chose instead to make polite remarks about the university whose honour he was accepting, which is perfectly fair and reasonable, but went on to paint a picture of the European Union, and particularly of the common currency project, which reeked of complacency and self-congratulation.

There are four central points to be made about the common currency project which commenced in 1999. The first is that it was a huge undertaking, comparable in potential consequences to the EU's other two great experiments, the successful enlargement of the union and the near-completion of the single market. Persuading countries to abandon their independent currencies and to pool monetary sovereignty in a new set of untried institutional structures required careful design, anticipation of stresses which might arise and advance planning for dealing with them. It is now acknowledged universally, including by some of the project's designers, that it was "riddled with design flaws" in the words of German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble. Barroso's Cork speech contains not a single reference to errors made in designing the common currency, or to any failures in its subsequent crisis management.

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