Sept. 27, 2012

The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination co-sponsored a policy address by José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, "European Union: An Indispensable Partner," Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. in Dodds Auditorium, Robertson Hall on the Princeton University campus. The lecture was co-sponsored with the Woodrow Wilson School, European Union Program, and the Program in Contemporary European Politics and Society. The event was free and open to the public.

President Barroso delivered his Princeton address at a time when European affairs are on the world’s front page, with pressing domestic crises, such as the sovereign debt crisis, compounded by high unemployment, marring many of its member states. The President began his speech with informed optimism about the future of Europe.

Barroso held a stalwart conviction that the project of European integration was not in decline despite the major fiscal setbacks since 2010. He briefly detailed the history of the "European Project," from the Rome Treaties, to the Maastricht Treaty, and the most recent Treaty of Lisbon. Each of these treaties was an additional step forward in European integration.

He claimed that European supranational governance faced a fundamentally unique constraint in behavior that is not seen in state governance - namely that its constituents form 27 sovereign bodies with diverse democratic polities. He additionally identified a problem in the manner in which the public debate surrounding Europe and its future was conducted in the United States, criticizing the views of those skeptical of the European Union who oversimplify the decision-making process in the European Union. Barroso claimed that pro-integrationist policies are always but one of several available options for the Union.

However, Barroso praised the United States as Europe’s most important global partner, pointing to the magnitude of trade and investment volumes across the Atlantic. He specifically identified how much more important the United States was for Europe than China, India, Brazil, Turkey, or any other state.

He stressed the need for the 500-million citizens of the European community to remain as actively involved in the supranational politics of Europe as they are in their own nations’ politics. He additionally asked the audience to consider the importance of normative leadership in the world today, and claimed that the European Union provided just that with its commitment to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, tolerance, and justice.

José Manuel Barroso was elected President of the European Commission in 2004, and reelected in 2009. He previously served as the Prime Minister of Portugal from 2002 to 2004. In addition to his political career, he is also an accomplished academic. 

Barroso was born in Lisbon on 23 March 1956. After graduating in law from the University of Lisbon, he moved to Geneva where he completed a Diploma in European Studies at the European University Institute, University of Geneva, and a Master's degree in Political Science from the Department of Political Science, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences, University of Geneva, earning an honors in both.

He embarked on an academic career, working successively as a teaching assistant at the Law Faculty of the University of Lisbon, in the Department of Political Science, University of Geneva, and as a visiting professor at the Department of Government and School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. In 1995, he became Head of the International Relations Department of Lusíada University, Lisbon. In 1979, he founded the University Association for European Studies.

His political career began in 1980 when he joined the Social Democratic Party (PSD). He was named President of the party in 1999 and re-elected three times. During the same period, he served as Vice President of the European People's Party. As State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation he played a key role as mediator in the signing of the peace accords for Angola in Bicesse in 1991, and as Minister for Foreign Affairs he was a driving force in the self-determination process in East Timor between 1992 and 1995. Under his leadership, the PSD won the general election in 2002 and he was appointed Prime Minister of Portugal in April of that year. He remained in office until July 2004 when he was nominated by the European Council and elected by the European Parliament to the post of President of the European Commission. In June 2009 the European Council unanimously nominated him for a second term as President of the European Commission, and he was re-elected to the post by an absolute majority in the European Parliament in September 2009.

Barroso has been awarded honorary degrees by Georgetown University, Washington, DC (2006), the University of Genoa, Italy (2006), Kobe University (2006), the University of Edinburgh (2006), the Sapienza University of Rome (2007), the Warsaw School of Economics (2007), the Catholic University of São Paulo (2008), the Nice Sophia Antipolis University (2008), the University of Chemnitz (2009), the University of Geneva (2010), the University of Ghent (2011) and the Technical University of Lisbon (2011), University of Haifa (2012).

He was named Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in 1993 and declared "European of the year 2006" by the newspaper European Voice. He received the Gold Medal of the town of Lamego, Portugal in 2007 and the Honorary Keys to the City of Lisbon in May 2008. He is the author of numerous publications on political science, international relations and the European Union, including, "Le système politique portugais face à l'intégration européenne" (Lisbon and Lausanne, 1983), "Uma Certa Ideia de Europa" (1999), "Mudar de Modelo" (2002) and "Reformar: Dois Anos de Governo" (2004).

He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Christ in 1996 and the Great Collar of the Order of East Timor in 2010. In 2011, he received the Grand Cross of the Royal and Distinguished Spanish Order of Charles III.

Article by Ankit Panda