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EU vs. Germany

DW staff (sms)October 8, 2007

An interview with the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, set sparks flying in Germany after he criticized Berlin's EU policy and overall attitude to Europe in what some called an election ploy.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso with a stern face
Barroso said he was concerned about some of Germany's positions regarding the EUImage: AP

Barroso's comments were a "provocation" which "amazed" diplomats in Brussels, Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) wrote in its Monday edition.

On Saturday, Belgian newspaper De Standaard published a wide- ranging interview with Barroso in which the head of the European Union's executive arm first said he "got along well" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and then accused Germany of "contradictory" behavior towards the EU.

Germany "pulled Europe out of the crisis over the Reform Treaty, so it has no need to catch up" with the rest of the union, European parliamentarian Elmar Brok told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) in an implicit rejection of Barroso's comments.

Germany addressing own interests

Merkel and Barroso smiling at an EU conference
Criticism has restarted after June's smilesImage: AP

Germany's "plea to leave power where it can be exercised closest to the citizen ... is really aimed against the European institutions," Barroso said in an unusually direct statement.

In addition, Germany's apparent reluctance to support reforms to the EU's energy market and to divert unused agricultural funds to pay for the Galileo satellite-navigation system is "worrying," he added.

Brok, however, said Berlin was ready to invest money in European ventures but wanted to make sure its interests -- and those of German companies -- "are taken into account in an appropriate manner," the FAS reported.

Germany is the largest net-contributor to the European Union's budget.

Barroso back on the offensive

Barroso's comments "went far beyond" the normal framework of dialogue between Brussels and member states, the daily SZ wrote.

An artist's rendition of a Galileo satellite
Germany said it wanted private companies to be the main Galileo beneficiariesImage: AP/ESA

They show that after two years of careful statements aimed at placating member states, Barroso thinks he "can afford to criticize again," FAS added.

Werner Hoyer, head of the parliamentary group of the German free-market liberal FDP party, said Merkel's government had to address Barroso's "alarming statement."

"Barroso's fears that Germany is aiming to renationalize common European policies have to be dispelled," he told the FAS.

Election maneuver?

But the comments themselves were dismissed by commentators in Berlin as electioneering ahead of the appointment of a new commission in 2009 -- a body which Barroso reportedly wants to head for the second time.

"It's scarcely likely that Barroso's displeasure with Germany's policies will last," the FAS wrote. "Without the German government's approval, he won't get his heart's desire of a second term in 2009."

The SZ agreed that early campaigning for 2009 was the likely motive for Barroso's comments.