Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Barroso's dilemma

On the eve of the annual economic European Council, The Daily Telegraph reports today the ascerbic comments of José Manuel Barroso on what he regards as the failure of the French political élites "to explain the constitution" to their voters.

They should "do their job", and "make an effort " to French voters, who are turning against the treaty. It was not the commission's fault, said Barroso, if the debate on the French referendum had been side-tracked by issues such as the distant prospect of Turkey joining the EU. "If there is confusion in French public opinion, it is not our fault," he added, just to make sure he had been understood.

Barroso is, of course, under considerable pressure. He is facing demands to come up with a cure for the economic woes of the European Union while, at the same time only having the services directive in his pocket – which l'escroc Chirac and his cronies have taken agin.

He is also confronted not only with a split between member states – viz Poland - but also in his own commission. Being conciliatory to France would risk widening splits elsewhere so, instead, the commission president is taking the calculated line of rebuffing Chirac in the hope that he can keep together a fractious coalition long enough to get an endorsement of his plans.

Hence, he has little option but to tell Chirac "to work to clarify public misunderstandings" about the EU constitution, adding that "The French referendum is not on the services directive." His parting shot, though, was particularly pointed, when he stated that he could not "accept the idea that because there is a referendum in one country, the commission cannot continue with our own work programme."

The trouble is that The Telegraph suggests the collapse of voter confidence in France "is tied to an increasingly surreal debate in France about an obscure piece of EU legislation, which proposes slashing the bureaucracy required by language teachers, architects or other 'service providers' if they move from one EU country to another."

This directive, it says, has become a symbol of French fears that Europe is under the control of an "Anglo-Saxon" cabal, determined to impose Thatcherite employment laws across the EU, and destroy the cosy French system of lavish benefits and worker protections.

The trouble is that, positioning it in this "Anglo Saxon" context, as our previous piece demonstrates, polarises a debate that is far more complex and has significant implications for all the economies of the EU member states. At best, the directive has mixed blessings, although its one great advantage seems to be that it could be the issue on which the French referendum will fall.

It thus took the Europhile Chris Davies, leader of the British Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, therefore, to point out Barroso’s dillema. Said Davies, Mr Barroso's defence of the commission was factually correct, but politically wrong-headed. "I want to see a Yes in the French referendum on May 29," he said. "I agree entirely with what Barroso just said, but if he loses the constitution treaty in the process, he won't have done any of us any favours."

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