Tuesday 11 September 2012

Will Barroso set out his vision for the Eurozone?

Tomorrow Barroso will give his third State of the Union speech of the parliament. The last two have been focused on the legislative programme for the upcoming year, so they have been more of the traditional speech from the throne that are held in constitutional monarchies rather than the more fundamental state of the union speeches that the title implies. This year the expectation seems to be that Barroso will focus on the integration needed for economic union - what will be the balance between legislation for the upcoming year and integration rhetoric?

Commissarial Speech 2011

But what about the progress since his last speech? Barroso focused mainly on the economy and foreign affairs. He declared his support for the Financial Transaction Tax, where the Commission has published an impact assessment but there's little prospect of it being implemented. The Single Market Act is slowly being put into action and legislation in this area (e.g. on public procurement and professional qualifications) has been introduced and/or passed. Project bonds are now in a pilot stage. On foreign affairs, the EU is clearly not any more important globally than it was before.

So there's been some progress on the main goals set out and plenty of ongoing work to do.

The six-pack of legislation on rules for the Eurozone were also passed and the draft two-pack was introduced and is currently under debate in the Parliament.

Commissarial Speech 2012

The Commission is entering the last 2 years of its mandate, so the focus will start to shift to finishing its legislative priorities and plans (such as the two-pack, market regulation and the new general data protection laws) rather than introducing new draft legislation that the Commission might not have time to bring through the legislative process. That treaty change is on the political agenda (with Van Rompuy putting together some proposals), this is Barroso's (and the Commission's) chance to make a big political pitch for the type of EU he wants to see. It's also hard to see any legislative rabbits being pulled out of the hat at this point or many new investment or growth policies, particularly given Barroso's agreement with the general line on austerity and the crystallisation of Member State positions on the EU budget. So we should see a speech on the direction of the EU and European integration.That said, vision and ambition aren't the words that spring to mind when it comes to Barroso.

Apart from the economic crisis and discussion on European integration, the Union's justice and home affairs policy really needs attention. The area got scant attention last year and problems have built up, with the bust-up between the Council and the Parliament over Schengen (leading to the Parliament suspending talks on several important pieces of legislation) being the key event in the last 6 months. Will Barroso try to woo the Parliament back into working in this area, and can he present a coherent vision for the EU's security strategy? It's a delicate issue since he won't want to risk offending his audience by pushing Parliament too hard to give in to the Council and there is little Barroso can offer the Parliament here, but the lack of a political narrative and political leadership for justice and home affairs apart from a shopping list from the Member States is a major weakness.

The speech will be on at 9:00 CET on September 12th in the European Parliament.

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