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The Two Faces of Barroso: The Technocrat vs The Politician

In general, I think that Barroso is not the right EU Commission President in these times of crises. He lacks the profile, the passion, the liveliness to convince citizens across the continent to see the value of a common European project, as flawed as it may be in practice.

His only luck is that European Council President van Rompuy has even less charisma. This apparent lack of charisma of Barroso is especially visible when he is reading his speeches. And he is reading most of his speeches.

Yet, today was again one of those days where you could actually see the two faces of Barroso, the one that shows the charisma-lacking technocrat and the other one, the rare one, of the passionate European politician, a politician who is worth listening to.

If this morning you had switched into the debate in the European Parliament on the results of last week’s European Council early on, when Barroso gave his 13 minute summary speech (text version), you might have also taken a sleeping pill instead. Zero emotion, technical blabla, close to no political rhetoric, failure to build a consistent argumentation.

But then, at some point during the morning, I started seeing tweets like these from Members of the European Parliament:

#Barroso turns against increasingly soloist rhetoric by European heads of government after Council meetings. Gets ovational applause by #EP” @JudithMerkies

“Barroso has gone off script again in EP debate, looking for applause. His spin doctors should be worried.” @grahamwatsonMEP

And indeed, Barroso’s closing remarks at the end of the debate look so much different, so much more passionate, so much more human, just watch the final part of his remarks:

YouTube Preview Image

If you look at the two speeches as a Wordle, you can directly see the difference. In the first speech, following “European”, institutional terms such as “Council”, “Commission”, “President” and auxiliary verbs like “must” and “need” as well as the mixed verb/noun “work” dominate:

In the second speech, inclusive words like “together” and “one” or more colloquial terms like “thing” gain in importance. And, a country like “Britain” is picked specifically to address political opposition.

But more than these visualisations, you see how different Barroso speaks, how passionate he can be if he’s just let free.

My guess is, that he has the worst speech writers in the world, because whenever Barroso is given a text to read, he seems like a dull technocrat, insecure of the words put in his mouth and bound to language that he feels uncomfortable with. When he’s let free, he looks like someone who has convictions, thoughts of his own, and argumentations in mind that actually make sense.

Sure, the politician Barroso may be more controversial, more prone to mistakes, but in times of crisis Europe actually needs the politician more than then the dead corpse he appears to be when reading pseudo-polished speeches no one likes to read or listen to.

Honestly, I prefer to disagree with a passionate political Commission President than to be indifferent to a technocratic machine. So please, President Barroso, kick out your current speech writer(s) and just speak freely – or get people in your team who actually understand how you think, how you speak, so that we get good speeches for a living European political debate that is worth discussing!

Update (19.22): By the way, you know you get “the real” Barroso when he takes off his glasses during a speech. I suppose these are his technocratic glasses.

Picture by ppdpsd (flickr) | BY-NC-SA 2.0


20 Responses to The Two Faces of Barroso: The Technocrat vs The Politician

  1. avatar Joe Thorpe says:

    He should speak his own language. English is a language of only one country & it may leave the EU soon which will have the perverse situation of no country in Europe speaking English as a first language yet the various presidents continue to speak English which is translated in to all the various languages of the member countries. Even Ireland had everything translated into Gaelic. So how can someone make a passionate speech in a foreign language?

  2. avatar Ronny Patz says:

    But he is able to make a passionate speech in English as one could see in the second speech. I don’t see why he couldn’t or shouldn’t do it then.

  3. I even think it is a good idea to speak English when you want to be heard by a broad European audience. Even if it is not a very common mothertongue in Europe, it is still the language most Europeans understand. If Barroso spoke Portuguese, a vast majority would need a translator, which always means that some of the passion is lost. By using lingua franca (even with his rather strong accent), much more people can listen to him directly.

    By the way, I wonder when TV channels in non-anglophone countries are going to start showing English sound bites from the European Parliament. In Germany, for instance, around two thirds of the people would understand them; for the rest, there could be a translation in the subtitles. And for Barroso & Co., it would be a great incentive to take off their glasses and show their more passionate side.

  4. avatar Eric B. says:

    Stimmt, Barroso ist besser, wenn er emotional wird. Aber letztlich offenbart dies nur, wie schwach seine Position ist. Das erste Mal fuhr er vor ein paar Wochen beim G20-Treffen in Mexiko aus der Haut – um sich gegen die völlig berechtigte Kritik der USA zu verteidigen. Diesmal beklagte er das Siegesgeschrei des Südens – dabei wäre es sein Job gewesen, den Showdown auf dem Gipfel zu verhindern. Barroso hat nicht mehr viel zu melden, Van Rompuy stiehlt ihm die Schau – deshalb wirkt er plötzlich so “menschlich”.

  5. avatar Ron says:

    I don’t agree completely, Eric. When you watch Barroso’s speeches or public appearances, you will notice that he seems generally much better in question-and-answer or in improvised parts of his speeches. It may be a distorted impression from the speeches I have watched, but I get the feeling that this is a more general pattern.

    Where I agree is that the strong overreactions may be due to his lack of impact or power, but this post was not just meant to point to the outbursts as such.

  6. avatar Joe Thorpe says:

    Barroso in the EU parliament is nothing more than an unelected chairman he shouldn’t take sides against members that actually were elected. The business of the EU parliament is for the benefit of the European electorate & as Europe is a none English speaking continent the business of the EU should be enacted in the tongue of either France or Germany. These countries are the one at the centre of the community & countries that border also speak these languages. Passion is demonstrated by the number of followers our political leaders have on twitter. If we were impassioned by Barroso he would have 15 million followers similar to #Obama, another good example of the lack of passion in Barroso’s speeches is the number of hits he gets on youtube, even Nigel Farage put him to shame.

  7. avatar Craig Willy says:

    This is a structural problem no? If he goes off message – push for Eurobonds whatever – Merkel and other austerians will destroy him (veto everything, call him simplistic, anti-economic, whatever). Plus he has no mandate to contradict heads of government. It’s a tough position.

  8. avatar Joe Thorpe says:

    Simple put up for election, lets have a eurovision contest with more than one candidate let the public chose.

  9. avatar Ron says:


    The question is how he can stay on message while still delivering speeches that are worth listening. That’s not a structural problem, it’s a speech-writing or speech-delivery problem.


    I hope the next European Parliament elections will be a ballot over several candidates. Would be good indeed.

  10. avatar Joe Thorpe says:

    If you have the support of the electorate & know they stand beside you (elected you)rather than against you & blaming you you would feel more able to enunciate your position with vigor than you would otherwise.

  11. avatar Craig Willy says:

    @Ron – Rompuy wrote a moderately interesting report on how to make EMU work. Merkel attacked as “economically wrong and counter-productive”. She started talking of “sham solutions” and the like.

    If an EU commissioner starts saying “interesting” things. It will upset some member state. If it is a big member state, then that Commissioner will be able to do nothing, because everything will be vetoed.

    It’s not the only reason Brusssels speeches are typically hideously boring, but I think it is the main reason.

  12. avatar Joe Thorpe says:

    Craig, do you not think Germany shouldn’t have a far bigger say than say Finland, Ireland etc? All EU votes should be waited in favour of population size that is the only acceptable form of democracy otherwise its not a democracy at all. David Cameron (UK) cannot make a roaring speech, Enda Kenny (Ireland) cannot make a roaring speech they have to mute their opinions to fit the coalition gloves they are wearing, how then can Barroso then who has never been elected by anyone make a spirited speech?

  13. avatar Craig Willy says:

    I am in complete agreement. I am just explaining why I think it is pointless to criticize EU Commissioners as boring when, in most cases, thy have no other choice.

  14. avatar Joe Thorpe says:

    Point taken

  15. avatar Filipe says:

    I’m Portuguese and I’ve been witnessing Barroso’s career for at least 20 years. I don’t admire him, or his ideas, but I have no doubt that he is a very cleaver and astute politician, a smart man from a small country, and so a master of diplomacy and backstage moves. For example, most people outside Portugal don’t know this, but he was the broker of the first peace agreement of the cruel angolan civil war, in the early 1990’s. He was successfull when many senior world class diplomates failed. He’s also an oportunist and owns an extraordinary sense of timing. He was a Maoist in the 70’s, but switched to the center right (PSD party) in the 80’s, when he saw that the Left had no future. When he became PM, in 2001, by a landslide, he started some very important reforms, but when the chance came to go to the European Comission, he didn’t thinked twice and abandon his country in a time of need. Probably, Portugal would not be in need of a bailout if he had stayed in office and concluded the structural reforms (that where very similar to the current international ‘troika’ agreement). And, in deed, he was some kind of carisma, when he speaks in Portuguese.

  16. avatar Filipe says:

    (Cont) There is an old story in Lisbon, that I can’t confirm if it is true or not, but I think that the fact that it is seen as real by many people in Portugal proves Barroso’s image as an astute and machiavelic politician. Some people say that one of his party rivals, Pedro Santana Lopes, a well know dandy and womanizer, had a love interest in Barroso’s wife, that ruined their friendship. But when Barroso run for the party’s leadership, he forget the entire situation and promised Santana the number 2 position in the party, in exchange for his aligeance. Santana agreed and when Barroso left the government and went to Brussels, Santana became the new portuguese PM. But he only stayed in office for 5 or 6 months, because the president cut him off and his political career was over. Some people say that this was a revenge from Barroso:)

  17. avatar Joe Thorpe says:

    He’s no Henry Kissinger, He looks positively greasy & slimy with a severe lack of any endearing personality traits. He speaks for himself & the European council. He sweats when he’s in the company of people like Obama. Hu Jintao or Putin he simply doesn’t cut it with the real movers & shakers on the world stage. You don’t have to pack an arsenal of Nukes to command respect on the world stage you only have to look at Pope John Paul, Queen Elizabeth or Nelson Mandela. There are 500 million people to find someone we can feel attached to as a leader & who the rest of the world will stand up when they see walk into a room or stop the traffic on the streets of New York, you don’t have to be 6’6″ to bet noticed ask the queen but you need an aura, even a well known Austrian has that (I don’t mean Hitler)& cruised being elected as governor of Los Angeles

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