Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Barroso’s “State of the Union” speech: A comedy of errors (The trailer)

Part of our common European cultural heritage is The Comedy of Errors, by the great William Shakespeare. Then we have a comedy of errors, by and for us lesser mortals, “a dramatic work in which the action usually features a series of comic instances of mistaken identity” (sources: Wikipedia).

We are firmly in the lowlier category during pre-season build-up for the European Union’s first “State of the Union” address, starring Commission president José Manuel Barroso this Tuesday morning in Strasbourg.

We have the pompous title, borrowed from the United States of America.

We have the case of mistaken identity.

In the USA: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America”, elected according to the Constitution (Article II, as amended). He is, among other things, the Commander in Chief and he has the Power to make Treaties as well as administrative, ambassadorial and judicial appointments (with the Advice and Consent of Senate). “He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient, … “.

In the European Union, the Commission plays an important part in the “institutional triangle”. The Commission promotes the general interest and it takes initiatives to that end. It ensures the application of the Treaties, it executes the budget and manages programmes, and it ensures parts of the EU’s external representation.

However, the President of the Commission is not the executive of the European Union. The member states, represented in the European Council and the Council of the European Union, ultimately the national parliaments, hold the crucial levers of power.

The directly elected European Parliament represents the citizens of the European Union, but it does not legislate alone, mainly together with the Council and the EP is (partly) excluded from fundamental questions, such as Treaty reform, the long term budget (taxes and expenditure), as well as foreign and security policy and defence.

Therefore, when the President of the Commission José Manuel Barroso and the President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek have agreed on a “State of the Union” address, we have a case of mistaken identity, even if I actually want the European Union to become a parliamentary democracy with a politically accountable government.

We are reminded of Aesop’s Fable “The Frog and the Ox”, where the frog tried to inflate itself to the size of an ox (source: Wikipedia). You may remember how it ended.

We descended into pure slapstick when the leadership of the European Parliament decided to impose penalties on MEPs absent from the “State of the Union” debate, a decision met by opposition and ridicule (source: England Expects blog).

The farcical talents were put to full use when the EP leadership apparently backtracked on the sanctions, as told by England Expects.

According to USA Today, President Obama’s first official State of the Union address drew 48 million viewers in the US alone.

When the chiefs of the EU Commission and the European Parliament felt the pressure to draw a decent crowd among 736 MEPs, they panicked.

Minute differences at the box office, methinks.

Communication and PR teachers, as well as public affairs consultants will flourish on this for ages to come.

To continue in the vein of light entertainment, the Bloggingportal.eu blog received twenty comments (including suggestions) for its Barroso Buzzword Bingo. Soon the real speech will be measured against the guesses of and expectant crowd. (Coming to think of it, I jotted down a list of all too serious and probable words, missing out on the humorous potential.)

The trailer of the new comedy from Strasbourg town was promising enough. When do you get to see the real stuff?

A comedy of errors is coming really soon to a screen near you, courtesy of EP Live, broadcast today from 8:55 local time in Strasbourg. You can choose between twenty three language channels (original plus 22).

Ralf Grahn