Last Tuesday, we witnessed the first so-called “state of the Union” address by a European Commission President. Drawing on the American example – following article II, sections 3 of the Constitution to the United States of America the US President annually informs the houses of Congress about the ‘State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient’ – José Manuel Barroso held a speech, described as ‘upbeat’ and ‘presidential-type’ (euobserver.com). Despite the question whether this is really something new – Commission Presidents already in the past had presented their work programs to the European Parliament on a regular basis – and whether Barroso is really the head of the EU’s executive – remember van Rompuy – and whether it was a good idea of threatening the MEPs with a fine in case of their abstention, I was wondering how strongly Barroso’s speech mirrored Barack Obama’s state of the Union address delivered on January 27th 2010.
The two speeches differ in length: Obama uses 7400 words as compared to Barroso’s 4400. In terms of content, both speeches center on the state of the economy, (‘smart’) growth, the creation of jobs (preferentially in the eco-industries), innovation, and energy questions. While Barroso promotes his 2020 reform agenda and a further deepening of the single market, Obama defends his health care program. Both speakers share concerns about civil rights. Obama focuses stronger on security and geostrategic issues. Barroso expresses his wish of seeing Europe become a global player, a ‘global leader’ but for the sake of promoting climate change, international cooperation and the promotion of the EU’s values, as for instance the respect of human rights. Both speakers underline their interest in the Doha round.
The two speeches address different audiences and they differ in terms of style. Commission President Barroso does not greet his ‘fellow Europeans’ and he delivers the basic structure of a work program – without actively discussing its pros and cons and illustrating and supporting his claims with examples from l’Europe profonde. But there are some attempts not to sound too bureaucratic: ‘This is Europe’s moment of truth. Europe must show that it is more than 27 different national solutions. We either swim together or sink separately. We will only succeed if, whether acting nationally, regionally or locally we think European.’ Compared to Barroso, Obama celebrates a mass, interacting and flirting with the audience: ‘I thought I’d get some applause on that one’. Or his comment on the bank bailout: ‘I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.’ Obama cheers up his audience – ‘Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done’ – in a blood, sweat and tears fashion basing his optimism on the American spirit of ‘great decency and great strength’. And yes, Barroso doesn’t end with: ‘And god bless the European Union’.