Thursday, January 27, 2005

The non-election manifesto

In any other political context, this would be an election manifesto, but in the "democratic" European Union we do things differently. First we appoint (actually, the governments appoint) the commission and then, afterwards, it issues its manifesto. Only in the EU, it is called the "work programme".

And so it has come to pass that Barroso has issued his "non-election manifesto", which the Financial Times has diplomatically called "pragmatic". For that read lacking any "big ideas", for which we can at least be thankful – except that this is a pre-constitution ratification programme, so the commission has decided to lie doggo in case it frightens the horses

Inevitably, Barroso could not resist using the word "reform" – something Prodi was rather found of, all those years ago, but the "mission statement" (yes, mission statement) is putting the emphasis on stronger growth and job creation.

Somebody should tell Barroso that governments, and still less the EU commission, do not create jobs – these only get made when governments but out and let people get on with it. But then that would be a waste of time. Barroso is a socialist, after all – even if he is a "centre-right" one.

Anyhow, in place of the "dreamy European visions" of Romano Prodi, we are told, Barroso makes "a blunt admission" that "feelings of indifference to the European idea are widespread". So glad he has noticed.

So what are we going to get? Well, our man at the commission is thinks the citizens are waiting for the EU to "release Europe's enormous untapped potential". His priority, therefore, is to bring to fruition the grand projects that have been launched.

That's what he says in his document: Europe 2010: a Partnership for European Renewal, which does not seem to have been released yet, so we have to make do with his press statement.

There we find that José Manuel Barroso's aim is "to deliver Prosperity, Solidarity and Security for all Europeans." Note the capitals, incidentally – all from the original.

For the first time, says José Manuel, the EU commission proposes a joint programme of strategic objectives in partnership with the EU parliament and council. The commission, he says, believes it is important that the European institutions "share the ownership of their priorities" and work together to achieve the Union's key objectives from the outset.

I wish I could stop sniggering when I read this guff, but the urge becomes overwhelming when you read on and learn that the commission had adopted a work programme for 2005 "which includes a first series of concrete initiatives to turn the Strategic Objectives into action." (Note caps again).

It is so hard to stop thinking about the maffiosa when they start talking about "concrete initiatives". One imagines all sorts of nefarious deeds.

So chaps (and chapesses), we’re going to have a "business friendly environment" by ensuring that companies can operate "with a stable macro-economic framework inside a genuinely Europe-wide regime."

The "top priority" is the restoration of sustainable dynamic growth and jobs in Europe in accordance with the Lisbon strategy; and – for afters – we get to "sustain and reinforce Europe's commitment to solidarity and social justice, to strengthen the cohesion of the enlarged Union and environmental protection."

Who writes this stuff – can they really be serious, or is this an elaborate send-up? Unfortunately, the hacks seem to take it seriously and some of this is going to be translated into action, so I suppose we have to as well.

But more to the point, José Manuel is going hard after an increased budget, warning countries such as Germany and Britain that want tight curbs on the next budget: "One cannot have more Europe for less money," he says. No indeed, one cannot.

Even then, he comes in for criticism from Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists – the left of centre type. "The Barroso Commission's five-year work programme amounts to little more than a thinly disguised neo-Conservative agenda. This is not the European way," says Poul. One wonders what he means.

However, star of the show was an unnamed EU prime minister, reacting to the Barroso manifesto. "We know what has to be done - the only problem is that we don't know how to win elections after we've done it," he says. Well, at least that is one problem José Manuel Barroso doesn’t have.

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