Commission President José Manuel Barroso delivered the last state of the union speech to Parliament for this legislature on Wednesday. Political group leaders took the floor to set out the priorities which they feel Commission should address in the coming months. They stressed the need to restore trust in the EU, pointing out that the May 2014 European elections offer voters a real chance to choose its future.
Opening the debate, European Parliament President Martin Schulz underlined that "People have lost trust in the EU and the first way to regain this is to throw open our doors and work transparently". He also underlined that the EU must focus more closely on improving the lives of the millions suffering from the crisis. "If young people have no prospects, how do you want them to trust the EU?" he asked.
"In eight months' time voters will judge what we have achieved in the last five years", said Mr Barroso. Europe had fought back the crises by radically reforming the financial sector and promoting other structural reforms, but at the same time he stressed the need "to roll up sleeves" in order to deliver the banking union, fight unemployment, remove obstacles to the single market and implement the decisions taken.
Joseph Daul (EPP, FR) also noted that trust in the EU and governments had declined and warned that simplistic solutions were not the answer. "This crisis is not due to Europe. If anything it is because of Europe and the Euro that we have survived", he said, calling on people to vote in the European elections to decide what the EU would be.
Hannes Swoboda (S&D, AT) challenged Mr Barroso's optimism, saying that "the glass is still half empty". He stressed that "austerity measures are still increasing the rift between rich and poor, North and South [...] more public and private investments are lacking". He also called for unity in the run-up to next year's European elections, to build "a closer Europe, a common Europe, one strong enough to defend itself worldwide".
Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) criticised the Commission for doing too little to tackle looming stagnation. "There is a small recovery but it is not fair to look only at the positive trends. We are in for a long period of stagnation and you (Mr Barroso) have failed to put forward a policy to avoid this. We need a banking union, a more integrated Eurozone and Eurozone government, and an ECB which also targets GDP", he said.
"You could have made Europe better by pursuing different policies" commented the Greens' leader Rebecca Harms (DE). "Climate policy was neglected and the European Union is now going for new subsidies for the nuclear and coal industry. In addition, farm reform is unfair and unecological", she added.
Martin Callanan (ECR, UK) called on people to use the next European elections to "give a fresh start to the EU. Wanting a new type of EU does not mean being anti-European", he said.
"We live in a different Europe from Barroso", said Vice-chair of the United Left Takis Hadjigeorgiou (CY), adding that "all austerity policies have deepened the crisis, thus resulting in unemployment". He also criticised the lack of democracy in the EU, reiterating that "democracy is not only the election - it is the life between the elections".
Nigel Farrage (EFD, UK) criticised Mr Barroso for his policies. "I will give you full marks for consistency. But this consistency has left many suffering, with youth unemployment above 50% in the Mediterranean". He also called for an end to efforts to tackle climate change which he said did not exist.
Nicole Sinclaire (NI, UK) said that Mr Barroso's Commission had failed to deliver. "Your Lisbon strategy sank without trace, unemployment is rocketing and people feel that the EU is not working. It is time to truly let people decide what type of EU is needed", she said.