Europe

Barroso 'state of EU' speech fails to impress MEPs

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Media captionBarroso was addressing a European Parliament which now has enhanced powers

The first "state of the union" address by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was a low-key affair compared with the ones that US presidents are used to giving.

Mr Barroso received a lukewarm reception and little applause throughout the speech, which was much more a technical explanation of possible reforms, rather than a rallying call for europhiles.

Mr Barroso started by saying that economic recovery was gathering pace in the European Union and growth would be even better this year.

But he said that the recession and eurozone crisis had tested the EU.

"Over the last year, the economic and financial crisis has put our Union before one of its greatest challenges ever... and our solidarity was tested like never before," Mr Barroso said in the 40-minute address.

And he went on: "The recovery is gathering pace, albeit unevenly within the Union. Growth this year will be higher than initially forecast. The unemployment rate, whilst still much too high, has stopped increasing."

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But Mr Barroso - who obviously feels now is not the time for the EU to rest on its laurels - called for a whole range of economic and financial reforms.

"We must use the next 12 months to accelerate our reform agenda. Now is the time to modernise our social market economy so that it can compete globally."

That will include making the single market work better, encouraging older workers to stay economically active and finally creating one Europe-wide patent.

Mr Barroso also outlined proposals for a new tax on financial activities and new regulation of the financial services industry, in order to prevent a repeat of the credit crunch.

But perhaps the most dramatic part of the speech was when he called for the EU to use its influence on the world stage to co-ordinate its military resources, crisis response and foreign policies, so that it could pull its weight in the world.

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Media captionMr Barroso says member states must come with an 'open mind' when discussing the budget

"Our partners are watching and are expecting us to engage as Europe, not just as 27 individual countries. If we don't act together, Europe will not be a force in the world, and they will move on without us: without Europe and without its member states."

Power struggle

In the debate that followed his speech Mr Barroso came under attack from several sides.

Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said Mr Barroso was kow-towing to the French and Germans too much: "For too long, you have been making concessions to a Franco-German directorate, which is currently running the Council."

Mr Barroso was also criticised for not saying enough about the environment and the treatment of the Roma (Gypsies) across Europe, for not spending enough - and for spending far too much.

But then this was never going to be a speech that would be well received by all or even a majority in the European Parliament. It includes MEPs of nearly every political hue and has been involved in a long-running battle for power and influence within the EU, and therefore sometimes sees the Commission as more of a rival than a friend.

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