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Economic crisis and democracy dominate State of the Union debate
MEPs gave mixed support to Commission President Barroso's vision, broadly welcoming the need for a stronger EU but highlighting the need to better address social issues and commenting that his federation proposals needed more ambition. The main groups called for a strong EU budget to deliver investments and growth. "Less EU" was the solution stressed by groups further to the right of the house.
Commission President José-Manuel Barroso kicked off the four-hour debate, focusing almost exclusively on the effects of the economic crisis and on democracy. He stressed that the time had come for Europe's countries to confront the fact that they could not deal individually with the problems they faced, before outlining his vision for a deep economic union based on a political union in the form of a federation of nation states.
A new EU on the back of the crisis
The implications of the crisis for the future of the EU and how it connects to citizens was a key issue raised by MEPs.
Mr Barroso's "federation of nation states" concept was criticized by both Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt, and Green group leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit. "This federation already exists, it is the European Council. We need a union based on citizens", Mr Verhofstadt said. "A European public space must be the aim", added Mr Cohn-Bendit.
EPP group leader Joseph Daul also emphasised the need to get through to individuals. "Our main task is to go out, explain and convince, even if though it will not be easy", he said.
Mr Barroso replied that the Commission was today proposing legislation for European political parties to help foster "European democracy as a complement to national democracy". He added that it was time to have truly transnational political parties which would make the case for the EU and called for these parties each to propose a candidate for the post of the next European Commission President.
Social safeguards and growth
Again sticking to the grass roots, MEPs also pressed upon Mr Barroso the need to work on maintaining a social Europe, even in the face of the mounting crisis.
"There is an alternative to cuts that must be based on investments", said S&D group leader Hannes Swoboda, stressing the need for a social pact and adding later in the debate that without a social Europe, the Socialist group could not support the Commission.
"What people want is solidarity today. We have to deliver this before delving into the future. It is unacceptable that we are pushing a culture of punishment", said Gabriele Zimmer, leader of the United Left group.
Mr Barroso insisted that the reforms being undertaken were tough but necessary, conceding however that it was also "critical" to develop a "European social dimension".
On the EU budget, a broad consensus emerged among MEPs and Mr Barroso that this was the primary instrument for investment and growth. For this reason, MEPs insisted that sufficient resources be devoted to it, whereas Mr Barroso argued that the losers from a small EU budget would be the member states themselves.
Less not more
The EFD and ECR groups had critical words for Mr Barroso. "All we see is the same tired approach - more instead of better Europe", ECR leader Martin Callanan said. Nigel Farage, heading the EFD group, lambasted Mr Barroso's project as "emerging, creeping Euro dictatorship".