Departing Barroso sees EU stronger after euro debt crisis

Sun Oct 26, 2014 5:27am EDT
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By Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Outside the European Commission's hulking headquarters, a poster on a street lamp proclaims "Titanic: final weeks".

It is advertising an exhibition in Brussels on the cruise liner sunk by an iceberg off Newfoundland a century ago.

But as Jose Manuel Barroso spends his last few days at the helm of the European Union's often maligned executive arm, with his designated successor Jean-Claude Juncker speaking ominously of "Europe's last chance", it's hard not to see the irony.

Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, is proud of having helped keep an enlarged 28-nation Europe afloat for 10 years through the most severe economic and financial storm in half a century.

"I was always confident that we would prevail, but I had to push the ship in the right direction, sometimes against very strong headwinds," Barroso said in an interview after a bruising final EU summit, his 75th as Commission president.

His legacy is to have helped the euro currency zone survive a searing 2009-13 debt crisis by establishing a financial rescue fund, enacting stricter budget rules, tightening financial regulation and starting to build a European banking union.

But he leaves amid a howling Eurosceptic gale in Britain and chill winds of anti-EU populism in many other member states, whipped up by mass unemployment and economic stagnation.

His happiest moments were receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Union in 2012 "at a time when there were lots of doubts about the EU even in European countries", and signing the Lisbon Treaty that revamped the bloc's complex institutions after French and Dutch voters rejected a European constitution.   Continued...

Outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso attends a news conference after an EU summit in Brussels October 24, 2014. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann