Barroso’s European “empire”

In 2004, José Manuel Barroso, the Maoist student leader turned mainstream politician (and professed believer in freedom and democracy), stepped down from the post of Portuguese prime minister to become President of the European Commission.

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The three European “presidents” as of November 2011: Jerzy Buzek (Parliament), José Manuel Barroso (Commission) and Herman Van Rompuy (European Council)

The very action – leaving the role of head of government of a European nation to become one of three “presidents” of the European Union (the other two being the heads of the European Council and European Parliament) – underscored the degree of power that the unelected EU leadership had accumulated, by that point, relative to that organization’s supposedly sovereign member states. As leader of the European Commission, Barroso arguably wielded more authority than any head of government in Europe, with the exception of the chancellor of Germany. Certainly Barroso the president of the European Commission was a far more potent figure than Barroso the premier of Portugal.

Although Barroso, on completing his second term as president of the European Commission, would maintain that he harbored no desire to see the EU evolve into a superstate, his own statements and actions while in office seemed – to put it mildly – to belie that claim.

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With Muammar Qaddafi at an EU-Africa Summit

In 2007, for example, he said: “Sometimes I like to compare the EU as a creation to the organisation of empire. We have the dimension of empire.” He added, paradoxically, “What we have is the first non-imperial empire.” In 2010, sounding very much like the Maoist he had once been (and supposedly no longer was), he expressed outright disdain for elective government, saying that “decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world are very often wrong.”

Two years later, declaring the need to “move toward a federation of nation states” and to “move to common supervisory decisions,” Barroso announced plans for a European banking union that would subordinate every financial institution in the eurozone to the European Central Bank – a clear step toward even greater power for Europe’s unelected masters in Brussels and toward even greater weakening of the authority of elected national legislatures and heads of government. Of course, he had no intention of asking the people of Europe whether they approved of such a move. The next year, he reiterated the need for increased “integration,” for more “federalism.” 

After Irish citizens, in a 2008 referendum, rejected the Treaty of Lisbon, formerly known as the EU Constitution, Barroso issued an absurdly counterfactual statement saying that “this vote should not be seen as a vote against the EU” – and saw to it that the Irish were made to vote again. (The second time, they cast their ballots the “right way.”) 

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Mario Monti

It was on Barroso’s watch that Silvio Berlusconi, the elected prime minister of Italy, was replaced, in 2011, with one of Barroso’s own right-hand men, Mario Monti, who had never held an elective office. (So that he could serve as prime minister, he was summarily appointed “Senator for Life” by Italy’s ceremonial president.) Like a good EU soldier, Monti proceeded to implement EU policies in that country. The next year, again with Barroso’s blessing, essentially the same thing happened in Greece. 

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With Angela Merkel

Throughout his tenure, moreover, Barroso responded with anger to criticism of the EU, of the European Commission, of the organization’s lack of democratic accountability. Consistently, he blamed problems that are inherent in the very structure of the EU and the eurozone on the governments – and the citizens – of member countries. When Ireland collapsed economically in 2013, Barroso rejected the idea that the yoking of the Irish economy to those of other countries via the euro had anything to do with it; instead, perversely, he turned the whole situation upside-down, charging Ireland – get this – with causing a problem for the euro.  

He is one of those bureaucrats, in short, who act as if – and who genuinely seem to believe that – the people exist for the sake of institutions of government, rather than the other way around. Barroso the EU honcho may not still have been a Maoist, but he still, quite clearly, had the young Maoist’s belief in tyranny.

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With David Cameron

Certainly Barroso’s own fierce authoritarianism, his extremely aggressive efforts to strengthen the EU’s power over member states, and his adamant refusal to address the inherent structural problems and lack of democratic accountability that make the EU a net negative force in the lives of millions of Europeans, helped lead to the recent vote by British citizens to bow out of the EU. You’ve got to hand it to Barroso, then, for his latest move: having left his EU post in 2014, he accepted the job, in July of this year, of non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International (GSI) at €5 million a year. His task? To “help Goldman Sachs as it deals with the fallout from Britain’s exit from the European Union.” Well done, good and faithful servant. 

Gerhard Schröder, Putin’s €250,000 pal

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Schröder and Putin – a special friendship

Among the surprisingly many members of the Western European political elite who’ve been remarkably steadfast in their, um, understanding for even the most brutal conduct by Vladimir Putin, one of the staunchest has been Gerhard Schröder, who served as chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005. Schröder, as it happens, sits on the board of Russia’s Gazprom, the giant government-owned natural-gas company, and is a longtime personal chum of the Kremlin thug (whom he’s called a “flawless democrat”). Putin once turned up at Schröder’s home in Hanover “with a Russian choir to celebrate his birthday.” Schröder has described Putin as having “a very close relationship to Germany” – noting that in the 1980s Putin was a KGB spy stationed in East Germany. (As we all know, of course, that’s the best way to develop a “very close relationship.”)  

Gerhard-Schroeder_2895463cAnd what a friend Schröder has been! When Putin invaded Ukraine, Schröder was quick to defend his buddy: Putin, he argued, was simply trying to keep Russia strong and on par with the U.S. Who could criticize that worthy goal? Putin, Schröder further explained was justly worried about “being encircled” – as if there were even the remotest possibility of a military incursion into Russia from Ukraine or Poland or one of the Baltic states. Schröder also made the point that Ukraine is “culturally divided,” with some Ukrainians identifying more with the West, others looking to Russia – so hey, why not let Putin seize some of the pro-Russian part of the country?

schroeder-wird-65_fullviewAt least Schröder acknowledged that the invasion constituted a clear violation of international law – but he hastened to add that the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia also violated international law. Never mind that Putin’s action was an aggressive, unprovoked land grab by a brutal dictator, and NATO’s bombing was a humanitarian effort to save the lives of people who were being targeted by a genocidal dictator.

Germany’s current chancellor, Angela Merkel, was outraged by Schröder’s support for Putin’s assault on Ukraine. Roland Nelles of Der Spiegel wasn’t impressed either. When Schröder celebrated his 70th birthday with Putin in April of last year – hot on the heels of the Crimea invasion – Nelles accused him of “making a mockery of Berlin’s foreign policy.” Yes, the two guys are pals. But still, wrote Nelles,

russland-praesident-wladimir-putin-und-altkanzler-gerhard-schroederSchröder ought to know better. If the former German chancellor believes he can continue his friendship as if nothing has happened, it’s a mistake. Schröder’s own center-left Social Democratic Party is currently the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which is frantically trying to prevent his friend Vladimir from carrying out the policies of a power-drunk hegemon in Eastern Europe. In difficult times like these, a former German leader should, at least publicly, keep a safe distance from Putin….as Germany’s former leader, he is still obliged to maintain a statesman-like responsibility for his country.

Thomas Holl of Frankfurter Allgemeine agreed. Reacting to photographs of Schröder hugging Putin, he called them “macabre.”

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The hug

One interesting detail about that 70th birthday party. It was hosted by Nord Stream AG, a Gazprom subsidiary that operates a gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Guess who’s the chairman of Nord Stream’s advisory board, raking in €250,000 a year from the Russian government? None other than Gerhard Schröder. In fact, he took the job only weeks after his party lost the 2005 parliamentary elections, forcing him to hand over the chancellorship to Merkel. “Opponents,” recalled Reuters, “said the haste with which he took up the job was unseemly and the link to Russian interests too direct for a former chancellor.” In any event, the fundamental fact about Schröder now seems clear. As Bundestag member Manuel Sarrazi puts it, he’s “spreading the Kremlin’s propaganda” and is “now a paid spokesman for Russia.”