The incoming Commission President has a reputation of being a free-marketeer, largely on the basis of some apparently tough economic decisions he made as Prime Minister of Portugal. As nobody has really analyzed those decisions or what effects they had, we cannot pronounce on that.
We do know, however, that, although Barroso has made all sorts of comments about the Lisbon agenda and the need to make the EU economy the most progressive and most competitive in the world, he has also expressed a wish to raise member states’ contribution to the EU budget in order to finance a few (or not so few, depending on how much money he gets) large projects.
Last week he has also explained that actually he was not really a liberal free-marketeer and cared deeply about “social Europe”, or, as it was interpreted by John Monks, secretary-general of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), was in favour of old-fashioned, trade union power and, presumably, redistributive socialism. (Incidentally, should not newspapers like the Times rejoice that ETUC has a British secretary-general? Does this not prove that Europe is moving in our direction, whatever our direction might be?)
This is how Mr Monks reported what Señhor Barroso said to him:
“He said, though, that he is a centrist, with close links with the Spanish trade unions. In terms of his economic and social philosphy, he told me he wasn’t particularly American but, rather, is fond of the Scandinavian model.”
It is, of course, pertinent to ask why the Prime Minsiter of Portugal should be close to the Spanish trade unions, but there may have been some confusion there in Mr Monks’s mind.
The trade union leader did express some fears that Barroso, wanting to transform the EU into the world’s most competitive economy would come under pressure from “some member state governments to move more in the US direction”. (And we wouldn’t want that, would we, for if the economy became competitive and people acquired higher standards of living, would they listen to an old humbug like John Monks?)
This interesting dicussion took place on September 9. On the same day Barroso met Jürgen Strube, president of UNICE, the employers’ federation. One wonders what he said at that meeting.