No more business as usual, says Commission chief

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The president of the European Commission has urged MEPs and EU citizens to "rise above national interests and parochial issues", during his annual State of the Union address.

In his final speech before next year's European Parliament elections, Jose Manuel Barroso said the previous five years of economic struggle showed there could be no more "business as usual".

2014 will also see the election of the new European Commission, and commentators say it is unlikely that Mr Barroso will stand for a third term as Commission president.

The former prime minister of Portugal has been in charge of the European Commission since 2004, during which time the EU has been dealing with the global economic crisis, and the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis.

He said the time had come for a "true political union" and that "now is the time for those who care about Europe to speak up for Europe".

The current parliamentary session has been dominated by soaring unemployment, with youth joblessness in Spain and Greece having breached 50%.

Mr Barroso defended the EU's response to the crisis - which has included a number of bailouts of struggling eurozone countries.

He insisted that just one year of the EU's budget provided more help to the people of Europe than the whole of the post-war Marshall Plan for reconstruction.

And he warned that rising Euroscepticism in the EU could lead the continent back to "war and the trenches".

Visions of Europe

His comments were echoed by Joseph Daul, the leader of the centre-right European People's Party, who said there was a danger of next year's elections being "an easy path to populism and nationalism".

He said the elections should not be "a battle of left and right, but a battle about visions of Europe".

The State of the Union speech was criticised by the leader of the centre-left Social Democrat group, Hannes Swoboda, who said that the austerity measures promoted by the European Commission were increasing the gulf between "rich and poor, and north and south".

He said unemployment in the EU was "scandalous", pointing to figures that claimed that just 31 jobs had been created in Spain in the past month, leading to mass emigration of young people.

The leader of the Conservative group, Martin Callanan described the debate as being akin to a "hustings meeting", with the various group leaders jostling to replace Mr Barroso as the next Commission president in 2014.

He said the elections would be a choice between "shuffling the deck of cards, or throwing out the deck of cards and starting afresh".

Useful links:

The European Parliament's disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations can be found here.

Read Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work here.

A full speaker's list can be found here.

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