The outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the longest-serving EU leader, gave his last press conference in Brussels yesterday (29 October). After 10 years in office, and after chairing 444 meetings of the College of Commissioners, Barroso expressed the view that his main legacy is “stronger and better equipped Europe” that he had helped build following of the worst economic crises in decades. Barroso elaborated on this point by stressing that “Thanks to the competencies granted to the EU and the European Commission and the ECB in particular, we today have a stronger EU which is better equipped to face the challenges of the future. The reality is that despite all hesitations in some capitals it has been possible to strengthen the EU in institutional terms.” For many, Barroso’s main legacy could really be the nascent European banking union with its stricter budget rules and tightening fiscal regulation.
Among his other main achievements, the former Portuguese Prime Minister also singled out the process of enlargement of the EU by adding a total of 13 new members, which he presided over during the last 10 years, calling it “one of the greatest achievements in European history”. Barroso then told the reporters that without the EU enlargement, Russia’s appetite, today, would not focus on Ukraine, but on Bulgaria and the Baltic states. Asked if the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, which are still being monitored by Brussels seven years after joining the EU for deficiencies in their law-enforcement systems, was credible enough, Barroso strongly defended the decisions taken.
The outgoing Commission President asserted that “For a minute, imagine that those countries had not joined the European Union. In that case, we would not probably be discussing only about Ukraine. We would probably be discussing now about Bulgaria, or about the Baltic states.” He then concluded that “So it was the right thing to do. Of course it was not perfect. But let me tell you very frankly – the problems we have in European integration in these years, were they because of Bulgaria and Romania? Of course not.” As for his future, responding to the rumors that he may consider becoming the next UN Secretary General in 2016, Barroso said that after 20 years in politics, he deserves a “pause”. The new College of Commissioners, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, takes over on November 1.