Há pouco mais de um ano - lembram-se? - era a "honra nacional". Desde Sampaio ao mais prosélito articulista, não houve cão nem gato que não balbuciasse, emocionado, o nome de Durão Barroso, mais tarde conhecido por José Barroso, um dos "campeões" na "luta" pela defunta Constituição Europeia. Passou um ano sobre a sua chegada à Comissão Europeia. Vale, pois, a pena ler este artigo do "Financial Times" dedicado ao balanço desse ano de desempenho da então promissora "honra" pátria. Como Sampaio sabe mais inglês do que português, pode ser que agora entenda.

José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, heads for the beaches of Portugal this week with warnings ringing in his ears to start showing some leadership. A year after he was confirmed in the job, Mr Barroso's stock has fallen sharply. The knives are out in some of Europe's main capitals, and his own team is becoming restless. The former prime minister of Portugal knows that after a year of crises he needs to return from the seaside ready to help lead Europe out of its profound malaise. Mr Barroso is not short of advice. At the end of June, in a private meeting in a spa hotel in Aachen, Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, told him to take charge. “It was a barrage of bullying,” said one observer, who claimed Mr Schröder told Mr Barroso he must stand up to Tony Blair, UK prime minister, who holds the six-month rotating EU presidency. “Schröder told him to show leadership, and not to work with Blair, whom he claimed was out to wreck Europe. To his credit, Barroso stood his ground and said he would work with Blair.” Criticism of his leadership also rings loud in the European parliament and among his own team of 24 commissioners, who claim he is a remote figure and has failed to get a grip on the Brussels machine. Peter Mandelson, the British trade commissioner and a liberal ally of Mr Barroso, expressed the frustration in a carefully worded speech in Brussels last week. “This coming autumn the Commission has got to be bold, it has got to get out on the front foot,” he said. “What we need is focus and impact.” Mr Barroso's problems are often ascribed to the series of political storms he has endured some self-inflicted over the past 12 months. But they also reflect the decline of the Commission once seen as a federal European government-in-waiting in the face of resurgent national self-interest in the 25-member club. Mr Barroso's last 12 months have been a political horror show. At the start, his choice of the highly conservative Rocco Buttiglione as justice commissioner was rejected by the European parliament. He oversaw a shambolic retreat over the Commission's plan to open the EU's market in services, a measure strongly opposed by protectionist forces in France and Germany. Even his summer holiday last year, on the yacht of the Greek shipping tycoon Spiros Latsis, turned into a public relations embarrassment: Mr Barroso was responsible for handling an EU inquiry into shipping cartels.
Portrayed as an “ultra-liberal” by Jacques Chirac, the French president, Mr Barroso was told to keep quiet during the doomed campaign for a Yes vote in the French referendum on the EU constitution. After Dutch and French voters rejected the constitution, sending Europe's flagship project up in flames, Mr Barroso worked behind the scenes as EU leaders grappled with the next European budget. But his public backing for a big increase in EU spending infuriated Mr Schröder, the union's biggest budget contributor. While these political setbacks have weakened him personally, the post of European Commission president has become more difficult. National leaders increasingly put domestic concerns ahead of the European interest. Many see the Commission as little more than a secretariat. As Mr Mandelson observed last week, most recent EU initiatives have been driven by member states, including the Lisbon economic reform agenda, co-operation in justice and security, and foreign and defence policy. Mr Barroso also faces an unprecedented additional problem: he is the first person to have secured his job without the full support of France and Germany. Instead his appointment crystallised Europe's ideological divide: Mr Chirac and Mr Schröder favoured Guy Verhofstadt, their Belgian ally, who shared their scepticism towards the US and “Anglo-Saxon” capitalism. But they were over-ruled by an Atlanticist coalition headed by Mr Blair and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, broadly in favour of liberal economic reforms and a wider EU. The Commission president at least realises the limitations of his position and that he has no choice but to work with member states a political reality never fully grasped by Romano Prodi, his Italian predecessor. Mr Barroso also recognises the need to slow down an EU legislative machine Mr Prodi allowed to spin rapidly; he believes Europeans want fewer EU laws, not more. “He sees his role differently to the paternalistic vision of the Commission in the past,” says one Barroso aide. “He is an honest broker, a facilitator. If he can work with our British friends, so much the better.” Aides believe Mr Barroso's “jobs and growth” agenda will win increasing support across Europe. Angela Merkel, the German conservative leader expected to win power in September, is an ally. An autumn relaunch is likely to revolve around the priorities of the British presidency, including a deregulation initiative under which Mr Barroso will axe a number of proposed laws. He will also try to resurrect the EU services directive and broker a deal on the union's budget. Whether he succeeds depends partly on whether he can win some support from France and Germany. He will also have to galvanise his own commissioners, some of whom complain they never see him and that there is a lack of collegiate spirit. Peter Sutherland, the BP and Goldman Sachs International chairman who coveted the post, called it “one of the most difficult jobs in the world”. Watching Mr Barroso's travails, he may now be glad that he was not tapped.

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