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. 

Joseph Stiglitz: Greeks bearing gifts

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Joseph Stiglitz

During the last couple of days, we’ve been pondering the career and views of big-government economist Joseph Stiglitz. We started out on Monday by mentioning Stiglitz’s glittering résumé. Here’s a little P.S. about that résumé: writing last year in National Review, Eliana Johnson noted that while it ran (at that point) to 56 pages, it omitted a good deal of Stiglitz’s speaking and consulting activity – even though, at $40,000 per lecture, he earned most of his income from that activity. These omissions, noted Johnson, were in direct violation of the transparency rules in effect at the Columbia Business School, where Stiglitz teaches. They also hid what any sensible observer would recognize as clear conflicts of interest. 

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Angela Merkel

What kinds of omissions – and conflicts of interest – are we talking about here? Well, one of them involves Greece. Over the course of the Greek financial crisis, Stiglitz has weighed in repeatedly on the subject – consistently on the side of the Greek government. While other economists argue that Greece brought on its own economic woes by spending far more money on generous welfare benefits and the like than it could afford, confident that Germany and other rich EU members would keep making up the shortfall, Stiglitz has depicted Greece as an innocent victim and its EU partners (which eventually got sick of picking up the tab) as heartless heavies.

Germany, he charged in July 2015 at an international development financing summit in Addis Ababa, lacked “solidarity” with Greece. “Asking even more from Greece would be unconscionable,” he said. In response to Western leaders who criticized Greece for failing to collect taxes, he accused those same leaders of being hypocrites for “trying to undermine” his own efforts to institute an international tax system.

The same month, in an article for Time, Stiglitz even went so far as to compare Angela Merkel’s Germany to Hitler’s:

The U.S. was generous with Germany as we defeated it. Now, it is time for the U.S. to be generous with our friends in Greece in their time of need, as they have been crushed for the second time in a century by Germany….Greece needs unconditional humanitarian aid; it needs Americans to buy its products, take vacations there, and show a solidarity with Greece and a humanity that its European partners were not able to display.

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Stiglitz and Papandreou at a 2013 Columbia University forum

As if that weren’t enough, Stiglitz wrote a New York Times op-ed – also in July 2015 – casting Greece as a “sacrificial lamb” victimized by what he calls the “troika” – the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

What Stiglitz failed to acknowledge in these pieces – and elsewhere – is that he’s not a neutral observer of the Greek economic disaster. Far from it. From 2009 to 2011, he worked as a paid advisor to Greek prime minister George Papandreou, whom he’s described as a friend. In February 2010, while serving in that advisory position, Stiglitz actually said this about Greece: “There’s clearly no risk of default. I’m very confident about it.” Was he speaking as an honest, responsible analyst, or as a paid flunky? 

(A flunky, one might add, who was cashing checks from a government that should instead have been using that money to pay down its debts.)

More tomorrow.