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Monday, October 20, 2014

Barroso lets his hair down - and British media loves it

Would the UK have zero influence outside the EU? 
Outgoing European Commission President José Manuel Barroso is in London, and he has made a few interesting remarks about the Tories, Brexit, EU free movement and Grant Shapps. Wading into the most intense debate on EU migration in the UK since 1066, he has really hit the headlines. 

However, Barroso no longer has any real say over decisions in the EU - it's Juncker's show now, and he has made addressing the UK's concerns a key priority, although it remains very much an open game. Also, remember, the bulk of Cameron's renegotiation won't be with the Commission - it'll primarily be with member states (though having the Commission on-side will certainly help). 

In any case, Barroso told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday:
"So far the British government has not presented a proposal, a concrete proposal [on reform of EU free movement rules]. There are ideas floating, there are rumours. I cannot comment on specific suggestions that have not yet been presented. What I can tell you is that any kind of arbitrary cap seems to me to be not in conformity with the European rules."
Barroso is of course right - restricting the number of EU workers coming to the UK, via quotas, would be illegal under EU rules - as we argued in our recent flash analysis and most people agree on. The question is whether changes to these rules are possible - this is a big discussion which we've looked at here. However, Barroso also tried to strike a more conciliatory tone when he stressed that there are "widespread concerns in the UK and elsewhere about abuse of free movement rights" and further changes could be made to address them, although "changes to [EU migrants' access to benefits] need all countries to agree."

Barroso had some less well-targetted comments, claiming for example, that the UK would be "irrelevant" and "have zero influence" outside the EU, while also appearing to link EU membership to Cameron's ability to fight the Ebola virus.

At an event this morning, Barroso was also asked about remarks made by Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps, who was sent out yesterday to dismiss Barroso's comments, calling the outgoing European Commission President “an unelected bureaucrat”. Barroso - now clearly free to let his hair down - went all in:
“Since I was 29 years old, I was elected in my country…I don’t know who this gentleman is, but certainly he has not more democratic legitimacy than I have.” 
Which begs the question, if Barroso doesn't know who Shapps is, how can he comment on the man's electoral record? Anyway, it allowed the Tories to play the 'we stand up to Brussels card'.


Peter van Leeuwen said...

With the UK the one country, which twice in a row, sends an unelected parliamentarian to serve as commissioner (the UK probably also the only country which in the 21th century still has unelected parliamentarians), all this nonsense about unelected commissioners becomes a bit pathetic. When an EC president is put forward by largest political family in the European Parliament, already before the elections, that is mysteriously seen as anti-democratic, it really appears as though the UK commentators have become parrots of populist propaganda.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Pete!
True we have a few problems with our
style of democracy, house of lords for a start, but most English people
would see the communist Barroso as
an unelected bureaucrat, as few recognise the legitimacy of the european parliament.
Barroso in saying that Cameron had made a big mistake, made a very big mistake, because most of the British see Cameron as a europhile. Another european made the mistake of threatening the British, it ended up with Churchill saying,`some chicken, some neck. The result was a free
western europe.

Rik said...

1. They simply donot get the right communication strategy.
The problems they face are what the remaining traditional voters want to hear works very negative with the other part of the electorate (more populist part).
Add the fact that people like Barosso hugely overestimate their credibility with the electorate and you get this stuff.

Fear is a bad sales argument. People like positive things not negative ones like fear.

Credibility of Barosso is probably worse in the UK than that of Brown. Simply people you donot want to have in your camp from a PR pov. They only appeal to people that are pro anyway, but urinate a lot of others off (mainly doubters that have had it with traditional politics).

2. On Barosso's watch immigration went completely out of hand (as far as sustainable electoral platform is concerned). The Euro was realistically seen not his call, but EU immigration was and it has become a mess. Under Barosso iso making it acceptable it was extended in the usual EU way, stretch the practicalities to the max.
People seem to forget what locals see as the immigration problem, is not even mainly the annual inflow.
It is the people that have problems to fit in that have flown in earlier plus the inflow plus the potential inflow.

Going over these three. Basically the only way open to attack all 3 parts is leaving. And probably sign agreements or do something similar in practice on immigration with the West EU (leaving out the EUs 3rd world part, which should like any other 3rd world inflow in a rich welfarestate be judged on a case by case basis).
Leaving makes it possible to look again at the current immigrants.

Anonymous said...

As someone who was there when he made the Shapps remark, it was obviously a joke; where has British humour gone? Where Barroso did strike a discordant note was airing his views on the UK influence etc outside the EU. Not a clever move. But why do so many who live in the Brussels beltway (a Barroso term) usually come over as so arrogant and smug?

Anonymous said...

I agree with house of lords not being elected, it should be gone. But the point you miss is this: democratically elected means directly elected by the people. Barroso is not elected by the people, so is not democratically elected.

jon livesey said...

The naive call for the House of Lords to be elected is very common, but it is wrong.

An elected house of Lords would be two very bad things. One, it would be a shadow of the Commons, and its members would be elected according to the same whim of the moment as members of the Commons.

Second, by being beholden to electors, members of the Lords would always have to tailor their comments to the need to be re-elected.

One of the negative features of modern political life is that more and more, elected representatives are experts in the art of getting elected, and not much else. The House of Lords is a valuable institution because it doesn't have to go the same way.

This doesn't mean that the House of Lords has to stay in exactly its current state. It changed a lot in the past century, and it can change more.

However, you only have to look at the history of Europe in the 20th Century to realise that direct election isn't the panacea your Fifth Form current affairs teacher said it was.

Oh, and for those Europeans who like to use the House of Lords as a permanent "gotcha" aimed at the UK, feel free to give us a call when you have racked up more than fifty or so years of stable democratic Government.

Peter van Leeuwen said...

Cameron was a “spitzenkandidat” in the 2010 elections in the UK, i.e. people could not vote for him directly (except those in Witney) but vote for MPs in his party and he somehow made it to prime-minister.

Junker, Schulz and others were spitzenkandidaten in the EP elections in May 2014, i.e. if all the British had voted for Labour, Mr. Schulz would now be your EC president.

Edward Spalton said...

I don't know whether it is intentional but, outside the Westminster political bubble, every speech of this sort by Barroso is an extra recruiting sergeant for UKIP.

Vivianne Reding had much the same effect and was personally thanked by Nigel Farage.

Actually the debates in the House of Lords are usually of a far higher quality than the Commons. They spend a great deal of time revising very shoddily drafted Bills churned out by the elected party automata in the Commons.