LISBON (AFP) — EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso hit back Saturday at recent criticism of the EU executive, with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy notably to the fore.
"It's not with populist slogans that we will succeed in renewing confidence among European citizens," said Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister.
Berlusconi made a typically boisterous return to the EU summit stage in Belgium this week, saying he was calling for action at the next EU summit in October to change "the attitude of the European commissioners, who leave governments in difficulties with their declarations."
The Commission has turned up the heat recently on Berlusconi's government, launching an illegal state aid probe into an emergency 300-million-euro (465-million-dollar) loan aimed at saving flag carrier airline Alitalia from bankruptcy.
The Commission said it might be "incompatible" with EU public aid rules.
Barroso said those who accuse the Commission of a "democratic deficit" were plain wrong, highlighting the fact he is just one of several former national premiers in its ranks, and underlining that each of the commissioners had been elected by the European Parliament.
"There is no point in falling into the populist temptation of depicting the European Commission as the expression of bureaucracy and technocracy," he stated.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also had EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in his sights this week, accusing him of playing a role in the Irish "No" vote in a referendum on the bloc's reforming Lisbon Treaty.
"It is not possible to criticise Brussels from Monday to Saturday, and then on Sunday, ask your citizens to give a favourable vote for Europe," Barroso also said, although it was unclear exactly who he was referring to.
Of Ireland's rejection, Barroso said he had to "respect the decision of the Irish people" but that equally he had to "respect the will of other countries who want to ratify the treaty."
After a judge in London blocked British Prime Minister Gordon Brown from completing the legal ratification process awaiting a ruling on a referendum challenge, Barroso said parliamentary ratification was every bit as democratic as the results of a referendum.
"Governments of these countries not only have the right, but also the obligation to respect decisions they have taken," Barroso added.
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