The prospects for economic recovery are looking up, predicts European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. But he warns member states against reliving Europe's dark history with respect to minority rights.
EU recovery is more robust than expected, says Barroso
In his first state of the union address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was upbeat about a swift economic recovery in the 27-nation bloc. He said the EU's executive was confident that growth would be significantly higher than originally forecast only a few months ago.
The latest official forecasts put growth in the EU at 1.0 percent in 2010 and 0.9 percent in the 16 countries that use the euro common currency. Upwardly revised forecasts are expected to be announced later this month.
Barroso urged the bloc to accelerate structural reforms over the next 12 months that he hopes will make Europe's economy greener, more competitive and more socially inclusive.
"Europe must show that it's more than 27 different national solutions. We either swim together, or sink separately," he said.
Barroso argued that, if Europe joins closer together, it will be able to exert more political power.
The EU is now looking to tackle abuses on financial markets
But members of the European Parliament reacted with incredulity, pointing out the weakness of Europe's political clout.
"How can we justify our absence from the Washington peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, while at the same time we are the biggest donor in the region?" asked Joseph Daul, leader of the Christian Democratic group.
Xenophobic ghosts of Europe's past
When Barroso began to talk about minority rights, aimed at the expulsion of the Roma in France, the audience came alive with sounds of approval.
"Everyone in Europe must respect the law and the governments must respect human rights including those of minorities," Barroso said. "Racism and xenophobia have no place in Europe. On such sensitive issues and when a problem arises we must all act with responsibility. I make a strong appeal not to reawaken the ghosts of Europe's past."
Criticism came from European parliamentarians.
Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists in the European Parliament, criticized Barroso for his indirectness, saying that he had failed to defend basic EU rights. "I would have liked you to have clearly named the government of Nicolas Sarkozy."
Helene Flautre, from the French Greens, accused Barroso of playing down the issue.
"France has violated EU laws with the collective expulsion of Roma groups, including their children. The Commission should finally make this crystal clear," she said.
Commission president relaunches 'eurobond' idea
Barroso told EU parliamentarians that he would field new proposals by the end of this month to tackle some of the actions of market speculators, whom many have blamed for exacerbating the global financial crisis.
In his address, Barroso also proposed creating a joint European bond to finance major infrastructure projects.
"Pooling money at the European level allows member states to cut their costs, avoid overlaps and get a better return on their investment," he said.
So-called "eurobonds" have long been favored by EU federalists eager to give the bloc more state-like powers, including the ability to raise cash on the bond market. But they are viewed with suspicion by fiscal hawks and those opposed to further EU integration.
Author: Gregg Benzow, Natalia Dannenberg (dpa/AP/AFP)
Editor: Nancy Isenson