“Outdated” Barosso Runs Afoul of French Politicians

The European Commission Building in Brussels. Photo: Sébastien Bertrand for Wikimedia Commons

The European Commission Building in Brussels. Photo: Sébastien Bertrand for Wikimedia Commons

European Commission President José Manuel Barosso, broadly seen as the enforcer of the EU’s wildly unpopular austerity measures, has found himself in an escalating war of words with the French government.

The spat went public on Monday, June 24, when the Portuguese Barosso accused French politicians of using the EU as a “scapegoat” for France’s economic woes.

Barosso was responding to statements made by French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg. Montebourg said that the EU’s policies, specifically the austerity measures, were fueling nationalism.

Montebourg accused Barosso of enabling the far right Front national to nearly win a special election in Villeneuve-sur-Lot last week.

Barosso dismissed Montebourg’s remarks, saying that “some protectionists on the left use exactly the same language as those on the right.”

In the days since the original exchange of insults, French politicians have been queuing up to take shots at Barosso, austerity, and the European Commission.

On June 26, Parti socialiste MP Claude Bartolone took his turn to launch a particularly scathing attack, calling Barosso “an outdated man.”

“Angela Merkel is right,” he continued, “when she says [Barosso] was a casting mistake… Above all, Barosso embodies a Europe that no longer corresponds with today’s world.”

Bartolone’s indirect praise of Angela Merkel underscores just how firmly Barosso is now fixed in the rogues’ gallery of French politics.

On the same day as Bartolone’s statement, cabinet spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem came to Montebourg’s defense. While she avoided attacking Barosso, Vallaud-Belkacem said that Montebourg had been merely “reminding the European Commission that European governments and the peoples that they represent all have their roles to play on the European stage.”

Two days later, Minister of External Commerce Nicole Bricq joined the anti-Barosso chorus, declaring that Barosso had “done nothing with his mandate,” and that he had been a poor choice to lead the EC.

However Barosso is not without his French defenders. French European Commissioner Michel Barnier, a center-right policymaker charged with internal EU market regulations, seemed barely able contain his anger over the current affair, dismissing the charges against Barosso as “false and absurd.”

“I’ve had it up to here with this,” Barnier said. “I’ve had enough of hearing ministers in my own country, politicians from left and right, saying that it [France’s economic sluggishness] is someone else’s fault.”

President François Hollande has tried to maintain civil relations with the EC amidst the fray. Speaking on Thursday at a summit in Brussels, Hollande said that his goal was to “calm” the tensions between France and the EU.

Barosso himself has said that he and Hollande have a close partnership.

The French media has joined the fight. Libération’s Jean Quatremer accused Barosso of selling France out to advance the proposed US-EU free trade agreement.

“Barosso has shown that his agenda is no longer European, but Atlantic,” Quatremer wrote. “He is preparing to campaign for the post of Secretary General at the UN or NATO. For that, he needs the consent of the Americans—hence the guarantees he gives them, and the attacks on France.”

Le Monde, meanwhile, ran an editorial that declared “Mr. Barosso, you are not Europe!”

There is no doubt that the upcoming trade agreement is at least partly responsible for the rush to attack Barosso. On June 17, Barosso called French opponents of the free trade agreement “reactionaries” for their fears of outside influences on French cinema and music.

France is notoriously protective of its culture, even banning certain foreign words from the language. It has long insisted on a “cultural exception” in international agreements, arguing that such laws are vital to stop outside—i.e. Anglophone—forces from destroying French culture.

Comments

  1. Lawrence Walsh says:

    This seems a very professional job to me.

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  1. […] austerity measures, has found himself in an escalating war of words with the French government. Barosso accused French politicians of using the EU as a “scapegoat” for France’s economic […]

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