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Editor’s Blog: Spare a thought for poor old Jose ‘Bozo’ Barroso

Amid the excitement over the arrival of Jean-Claude Juncker it is easy to forget that we are witnessing the departure of Jose Manuel Barroso, the centre-right politician from Portugal who has in theory led the European Union over the last ten years, writes Justin Stares.

Bozo, as he is sometimes affectionately known among Brussels-based British hacks, looks set to receive a low key sendoff – hardly fitting for the man who claims to have saved (sort of) the European Union. “We can be proud because we have demonstrated the extraordinary resilience of Europe” he said in one of the few farewell interviews to have done the rounds in the last few days. Referring to the dramatic Euro-zone crisis, he recalled his fear that “the fall of Greece would lead to a domino effect” and the collapse of Europe as we know it. “But the line was held,” he continued. “We stayed strong and at the same time managed to launch the new architecture of European governance.”

Juncker did not even name-check Barroso in his first keynote speech to the European Parliament. This could be because the jury is still out on the Euro-zone crisis, which could flare again up at any time. European Union Member States are of course more indebted now than ever. Barroso helped apply morphine; he did not cure the patient.

More important however was he role in killing off the ill-fated European constitution. When voters in France and the Netherlands dared to say no to further integration, Barroso urged other countries to cancel their referenda because, he said, there was a danger of “contagion”. In these times of Ebola and fickle financial markets, it is somewhat amusing to note that he was in fact referring to democratic contagion; there was a chance that voters elsewhere would also kick sand in the face of Brussels.

This was in retrospect a defining moment in the history of the European Union. Until this point, a majority of Europe’s much vaunted “citizens” had supported a seemingly inevitable march towards a United States of Europe. But as soon as the institutions saw they had lost this support, Barroso and his chums shamefully decided popular support was no longer necessary.

Apart from Mr Juncker, that is. The Luxemburger put his own career on the line and thereby forced his countrymen to vote yes to a constitution that was in any case dropped soon after. For loyalty to the cause, he has duly been rewarded.

There is no point dwelling too much on what happened next. Barroso helped rush in the Lisbon Treaty, the agreement that has had a much more profound effect on decision-making in Brussels than many outsiders realise. It was of course the constitution in disguise: without the pomp and ceremony but with all the centralising of powers still intact.

Barroso did indeed hold the line – for the Brussels elite.

As he ships himself off to some academic pasture there will be many in the EU capital who will acknowledge that the wheels nearly came off the whole project under his stewardship. With his belly-slithering, Barroso helped ensure that Brussels is still in charge today. For this, Juncker is no doubt grateful, though to crow about it openly in front of a European Parliament packed with Euro-sceptics would surely not do.

Well done Mr Barroso, you have been a good friend to Brussels, though you will have to forgive your European citizens if they do not erect statues in your honour.

You can follow Justin on Twitter @JustinStares or on Tumblr here


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