European Commission President José Barroso on His Job's Challenges

The European Commission president on the challenges of managing 27 countries
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell

What’s happening in Europe now is what I call the biggest stress test ever. The reality is that there are different cultures in our member states. There are prejudices in some countries regarding others, and their interests are at odds with each other.

For me, it’s challenging. When I make a decision in the commission, I know it will be well received in some parts of Europe and extremely badly received in other parts. But I’m not here just to be Mr. Nice Guy.

The existential crisis regarding the euro is behind us. A year ago many analysts were speaking about the implosion of Europe. Now the rhetoric has changed. We’re better equipped than before to face our difficulties. But we still have a lot of work to do. The latest developments in Cyprus should be a warning to Europe that we need to go faster and deeper with the banking union.

We have a problem of leadership. We need leaders who can tell their people, “Our problems were not created because of what others are doing. It’s because of past mistakes in our own country.” You have to have the courage to explain that to your own people. There is a tendency to Europeanize the problems and to nationalize the successes. When things are going well, it reflects my merit as a prime minister or minister. When things go badly, it’s the fault of those guys in Brussels. I believe that’s holding us back from making faster changes.

The mood in Europe is quite negative. Support for European integration is linked to the feel-good factor. When the economy is not so good, pessimism is higher. But we cannot decide things based on public opinion. A stronger Europe means stronger economies.

In spite of all the difficulties and public bashing, all the decisions I’ve made have been for more, not less, Europe—for the banking union, for more integration. For the past four years we’ve been living in a permanent crisis mode. The crisis has forced us to reassess. Those difficulties make me convinced of the need to go further in European integration.

I’ve lost illusions in my time here, but I’ve kept my enthusiasm. I’m a completely committed European. I think this union is one of the greatest projects achieved in world history—a triumph of sharing sovereignty, of avoiding the conflicts of the past through interdependence. — As told to Diane Brady 

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