Barroso Says Economic Crisis Calls For Intensified EU-U.S. Coordination Now     Print Email

Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, appealed Thursday for closer EU-U.S. ties in the wrenching economic crisis engulfing both sides of the Atlantic. “The transatlantic community is not living up to its potential. I think we should do much more together,” he said.

This unusually direct and bluntly-worded statement from a top-level European official appeared in an interview with the British newspaper, The Times of London. The paper belongs to media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who is a fierce opponent of European integration and better U.S. relations with the EU, and other Murdoch-owned news outlets quickly relayed the story as evidence of a “rift” between EU leaders and Washington.

They characterized his comments as an implicit European rebuke to the Obama administration for allegedly neglecting ties with the oldest U.S. allies. A Murdoch-owned Australian paper, which got an early start on the story, said that the interview showed “Europe’s love affair with Barack Obama appears to have cooled dramatically.”

The White House, apparently caught by surprise by initial queries, was quoted replying that European expectations of Obama were “so high that they could not have been met.”

Not so fast. The transcript of the interview shows Barroso stressing the opportunity for more effective cooperation between the Obama administration and the new team that has taken charge in the EU in the seven months since the ratification of the Lisbon treaty.

We have conditions like we have never had before and it would be a pity if we missed the opportunity. President [Barack] Obama is extremely popular in Europe and in Europe you probably have the most transatlantic generation of leaders since the Second World War,” he is quoted as saying.

Barosso’s statements seemed to emphasize his sense of current opportunities for the EU and the U.S. to work together in a global context to revive economic growth. “The transatlantic market…is by far the biggest relationship in the world still today if you put together trade and investment…. a common agenda for growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic, that is what the business community of the United States and Europe are asking from us.”

There has been no shortage of transatlantic divergences in recent months, as reported in European Affairs, including about the right balance of U.S.-style stimulus and German-favored fiscal discipline. But Barosso’s comments called for “a more deep and committed dialogue” between Brussels and Washington about how to deal with emerging markets and newcomers to the global power balance such as China.

“We could do more in that matter and I hope we will see some progress soon,” Barosso said.

He also addressed some complaints in Europe about the Obama administration’s strong focus on Asia, at the risk of seeming to neglect Europe – and seemed to move on to a new agenda. “Frankly,” he was quoted saying, Obama focused when he came to office “on problems and Europe was not seen as a problem.”

So, according to Barroso, Obama “had to concentrate on the eternal problem of the Middle East, the re-set of relations with Russia and relations with China because China is seen more and more in the U.S. as a threat.”

Barroso’s conclusion was that now ”we need to define together an agenda for a stronger transatlantic relationship, not only in terms of what unites us in values but what we can do together concretely globally.”

Assuming blame for some European failures in the causes of the current global crisis, Barroso said that the “euro” – the single currency that fueled growth in Europe in the last decade – had also “acted like a sleeping pill, lulling some countries into a false sense of economic confidence and the illusion of prosperity, allowing governments to avoid painful economic reforms,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters. (The news agency reported excerpts of The Times interview, which is not freely available on the internet because of the paper’s requirement that readers pay for access.)

Now, he said, the euro is serving as an extremely powerful driver for what Europe needs – learning “not to live above its means and, secondly, to make the structural reforms to become more competitive in the global economies."

Barroso said that EU member states must cooperate more closely on their economic policies, but that this change would not lead to a further centralization of powers for Brussels.

Summing up, Barroso said that Europe needs to consolidate its economic union. “This means to act together when it makes sense. It makes sense for even the biggest states in the EU because when we come to discuss these matters with the U.S. or the Chinese, I think everyone agrees we have much more leverage if we do it together."