Wednesday 9 September 2009

Barroso's Green Grilling

Today Barroso was grilled by the Liberals and the Greens. The Greens broadcast their hearing live on their website (from 16:30-18:30 Brussels time). I watched most of it, but the connection wasn't great, and at time the speakers' voices were echoed. It was also untranslated, so those who couldn't speak English, German or (especially) French would have been at a disadvantage; but it was good to see a live hearing.

[Note: My bad French the bad connection means that I may end up leaving some stuff out, so update me in the comments if you notice anything]

Barroso didn't give much away that he didn't say in his Political Guidelines for the next Commission (and that didn't reveal anything new either), but it was useful to see Barroso answering questions under some pressure (there were several shouting matches in French; a language in which Barroso speaks a lot more passionately than in English).

The main topic was, of course, the environment. Questions were raised over agriculture policy (particularlly on GM foods and the question of restrictions on protein production), over the Commission's commitment to tackle climate change and to ensure that the EU remains a leader in this area (especially since Japan unilaterally decided to cut emissions by 25%) and on global climate deals. Barroso's answers reflected how much he values the single market and liberalised trade (as his answers throughout did). He repeated his policy that GM foods remain a national decision, and he defended the EU's climate policy, saying that Japan had not yet legislated for that promise (the promise was made by the new incoming government). He also stressed the value of consensus, and that the role of the Commission President was to find consensus over issues - member states with different main energy sources and policies needed to be brought together. I've some sympathy for the last point, but Barroso's last 5 years have hardly come across as ambitious either. He also repeated his idea of a "climate test" for Commission policies and proposals, to ensure that they would be in line with the policy on climate change.

An excellent question was raised over the Commission's record of enforcing the correct application of environmental law that already exists. Hoever, to me the anser to this seemed to get lost in his reply to the questions generally (3 questions would be asked each time before he would answer).

Poverty and social policy came up as well. Barroso's stance on market liberalisation as characterised as the "Death of Social Europe" at one point (at least, that what I picked up - it was in French). On poverty, Barroso spoke about using the Social Fund, but also said that some states had asserted subsidiarity in some cases to prevent EU involvement in those areas. On social Europe, he said he wanted to introduce legislation on posted workers to plug the gap in the single market, but that he'd ensure that social rights are protected - Barroso pointed to the Charater of Fundamental Rights and asserted that these rights would be ensured generally.

The European Free Alliance (the regionalist wing of the group) asked a few questions as well; on the EU supporting regional languages financially as co-official in the EU institutions (if I've remembered that correctly), and on the inclusion of regions in decision-making. Barroso gave some vague statement of support for non-official languages and said that he supported regionalism, but that it was up to the member states in the Council to decide how much input their regions have.

On Human Rights, the Greens wanted more action on the issue of CIA rendition flights and for human rights to be linked with trade agreements more. Barroso said that he give political support to the cause of human rights by speaking out and by questioning leaders like Putin on it, but he rejected the idea of linking human rights ith trade too closely as impractical. He pointed to his the directive on non-discrimination in his first term as proof of his commitment to human rights (saying that it had faced some opposition in the EP), and said his next Commission would have a Commissioner with a portfolio on human rights.

Throughout the hearing, Barroso's belief in market liberalisation was clear, but so was a strange view on the role of the Commission. "Consensus" came up again and again: he tried to characterise the Commission as a bastion of unpolitical consensus, and accussed the Greens of excluding themselves from the "European Consensus". The denial of normal politics and replacing it with a grand European Alliance is simply the wrong strategy, even for its own cause. After a rambling speech on consensual Commissions and pro-European alliances, Barroso tried to characterise himself as not being conservative, but instead as a centre-right reformer. To which came the reply from an off-screen Green - and my favourite line of the hearing - "Would you not rather the support of the Greens instead of the support of the conservative group?".

I've a feeling that Barroso is more the ECR's candidate than the EPP's...

My Tweets:

Barroso is being questioned by the Greens - you can watch it live now: (it's 45min in) #eu

Barroso accuses Greens of excluding themselves from the European consensus #eu

Barroso and Red Danny shouting over each other. Barroso sounds more passionate in French (!) #eu #eugreenhearing

Barroso trying to defend the idea of an unpartisan Commission. And unpolitical Commission? #eu #eugreenhearing

"Death of Social Europe" - more criticism of #Barroso's market-focus and of social rhetoric as election rhetoric #eugreenhearing #eu

#Barroso talking about a "climate test" for all #Commission proposals. #eu #eugreenhearing

Criticising #Barroso over ensuring the application of #eu environmental law. #eugreenhearing

Consensus must be #Barroso's favourite word. Getting coal-using countries on board is an issue #eu #eugreenhearing

#Barroso blames member states using subsidiarity against poverty-fighting measures #eu #eugreenhearing

#Barroso wants to intro legislation on posted workers that extends market freedom, but says social rights will be protected #eu #hearing

I wonder if the EFA wing will attack #Barroso for his slap on the effect of subsidiarity? #eu #eugreenhearing

EFA issues: will #eu financially support the co-official languages in the EU & representation of regions in decision-making #eugreenhearing

#Barroso: regions' participation is supported, but it's member states' decision #eu #eugreenhearing

#Barroso's been asked if he'll limit protein production; and if agricult. policy is liberalisation & export orientated #eu #eugreenhearing

Some anger over the different treatment of the epot of GM foods #eu #eugreenhearing

It must be annoying having Danny sit right next to you and for him to be shouting that loud #eu #eugreenhearing

Question: should there be a Human Rights Commissioner & more HR in trade deals? #eu #eugreenhearing #Barroso

Greens pushing for more action over the CIA rendition flights & Guantamino #Barroso #eu #eugreenhearing

#Barroso: points to horizontal non-discrim. directive against some EP opposition. Next #Commission will have a HR Commissioner #eu

#Barroso: impossible to subordinate trade to HR concerns #eu #eugreehearing

#Barroso: integration of Africa in global trade will aid development #eu #eugreenhearing

#Danny ends ith a friendly question on Iraq. #Barroso #eu #eugreenhearing

Question time's over, and #Barroso's out like a shot! #eu #eugreenhearing Spent last 2 hrs wanting to get away from Danny, no doubt.


  1. Conor, as you say, Barroso didn't add much to his previous wishy-washy "political guidelines". However, what rocked me back on my heels was his claim to be consensual in his management of the Commission. His record shows this to be more than a slight untruth. He has been reported as over-ruling Commissioners and introducing legislation in the Commission's name without even discussing it with Commissioners: especially to curry favour with individual national leaders.

    Sadly, he's the only candidate for the job: so will get in. And after this bad news, we have to await the Irish re-vote on Lisbon......

  2. Well, Barroso's idea of a consensus seems to be a position he holds that people opt in or out of. Those who rally around Barroso are expressing the consensus, whatever it happens to be at that point.