Dal Guardian del 7.9.10:
Barroso speech targets French anti-Gypsy campaign
The president of the European commission delivered veiled criticism today for the first time of the French government’s anti-Gypsy campaign.
In his first annual “state of the union” speech to the European parliament in Strasbourg, José Manuel Barroso urged greater protection of the rights of the EU’s largest ethnic minority – the 12 million-strong Roma community – and warned European leaders to steer clear of the racism and discrimination of the past.
Barroso’s speech, outlining his priorities for the year and focusing on the financial and economic crisis, was preceded by a farcical failed attempt to force MEPs to attend the Strasbourg session. Parliamentary leaders abandoned a plan to fine MEPs who did not show up after being accused of Stalinism and infantilism.
The parliament could strike a blow against French prestige by condemning President Nicolas Sarkozy’s policy of demolishing Roma encampments and deporting thousands of Gypsy families back to Romania and Bulgaria.
The commission, which is the guardian of European treaties and polices the observance of EU laws, has been widely criticised for its slowness in ruling whether the French actions have broken the EU’s freedom of movement and human rights rules.
Last week, three European commissioners raised strong doubts about the French government’s conduct, but delayed any conclusive verdict on the Sarkozy policy.
In remarks indirectly targeted at Paris, Barroso said EU “governments must respect human rights, including those of minorities. Racism and xenophobia have no place in Europe. On such sensitive issues, when a problem arises, we must all act with responsibility. I make a strong appeal not to reawaken the ghosts of Europe’s past.”
Despite a mood of economic gloom as European governments enact swingeing austerity packages, a sense of European decline and marginalisation internationally, and growing popular disaffection with the EU, Barroso sought to purvey an upbeat message and claim the credit for softening the impact of recession.
“The economic and financial crisis has put our union before one of its greatest challenges ever,” he said. “I believe that we have withstood the test. We have provided many of the answers needed … My message to each and every European is that you can trust the European Union to do what it takes to secure your future.”
With EU finance ministers meeting in Brussels today to endorse a new system of pan-European regulation of banks and financial markets, Barroso pledged legislative proposals soon to clamp down on the markets – banning some forms of naked shortselling and speculation, and placing tighter controls on credit default swaps – as well as prohibiting some forms of bankers’ bonuses, placing levies on banks as an insurance fund against collapse and, possibly, taxes on financial transactions or activities.
“The days of betting on someone else’s house burning down are over,” he said. “We continue to insist that banks, not taxpayers, must pay upfront to cover the costs of their own risks of failure. We are legislating to outlaw bonuses for quick wins today that become big losses tomorrow.”
Some of Barroso’s plans will run into opposition in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. The economic crisis and the disastrous impact on the euro, triggered by Greece’s debt emergency, have exposed the weaknesses of Barroso and the commission over the past six months, with national leaders in Europe setting the pace and bypassing Brussels.
Barroso has been engaged in a losing battle with Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, and is engaged in a power struggle with Herman van Rompuy, the relatively new president of the European Council representing the 27 governments in the EU.
Barroso used today’s speech to seek to claw back lost ground.
“This is Europe’s moment of truth,” he said. “Europe must show it is more than 27 different national solutions. We either swim together, or sink separately.”