by David Akin
LOS CABOS, Mexico — Maybe it was the 35 C heat here on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. Maybe it was the pressure of the crisis he faces back home.
Whatever it was, when I asked European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso here Monday why Canada should risk its financial good name to bail out European banks, Barroso blew a diplomatic gasket.
“We are extremely open and we are engaging our partners but we are certainly not coming here to receive lessons from nobody,” he harrumphed.
There was more.
“Frankly, we are not coming here to receive lessons in terms of democracy and in terms of how to run an economy because the European Union has a model that we may be very proud of,” Barroso said.
Really? Has he seen what the markets think of buying bonds from Italy, Spain or Barroso’s own country, Portugal?
In Barroso’s eyes, the fiscal crisis in Europe is not even Europe’s fault. It is the victim in all of this. For that reason, the rest of the world ought bail it out, even though, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper has noted, the so-called euro area of 27 countries is the single largest and wealthiest economic unit in the entire world.
Harper has told Barroso just that, saying that if Canada – or anyone else – is going to kick in to a US$430 billion pool administered by the International Monetary Fund, then Europe is going to have to release the chokehold it has had on the IMF.
Notably, Brazil, Russia, India and China have also said they’ll pump billions more into the IMF, but only if they get more say in how the IMF’s money is spent.
Well, Barroso would have none of this.
He as much as said the IMF has been and always will be Europe’s piggy bank to do with as it wants.
“European member states are – by far – the biggest contributors to the IMF,” Barroso harrumphed. “Even euro area member states alone are the biggest contributors, bigger than the United States, certainly much, much, much bigger than Canada, so the biggest contribution for the IMF all these years has been from European member states. And it is quite interesting to note that even in times of crisis, now when we have decided to increase the funding for the IMF, once again, it is the European member states that have given the biggest part, the biggest share.”
But Barroso wasn’t finished. In the middle of his tirade, he trotted out a thinly veiled threat that a Canada-EU free-trade deal was at risk unless Harper comes to his senses and sends Canadian cash to the continent.
“We are trying to conclude an important agreement on trade with Canada. Why? Because all the other parts of the world look at Europe as a source of possible growth for them. And, in fact, they also have an interest. The sooner the situation is stabilized in Europe, the better for them,” he said.
As for Harper, his reaction was more measured.
“The problems of the Eurozone remain very significant. However, they are clearly within the means of European countries to deal with. What European countries need to do, and what we will be looking to see, are clear commitments that they are prepared to take all of the actions, all of the necessary actions that are within their capacity to deal with these problems.”
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