FLORENCE, Italy May 9 European Union countries
are struggling to agree the approach to take on the crisis in
Ukraine, despite broad condemnation of the actions of Russia,
outgoing European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said
Barroso, who is due to step down after 10 years in office,
said the Ukraine crisis was the biggest threat to security in
Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall with greater potential
for destabilisation than the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
He said European countries had decided to support Ukraine
and to show that Russia's actions had to have consequences but
he said settling on a united response was "still a work in
progress" given different views by EU member states.
"And this, let's be honest, this is the issue," he said.
EU countries have moved slowly towards agreeing a tougher
line on applying sanctions against Russian companies but
Barroso's comments underline how difficult it will be to reach
any more far-reaching agreement.
Differences within the 28-member bloc, much of which depends
on Russian gas supplies, have stood in the way of agreement on
toughening the limited sanctions against members of the Russian
elite. Germany, Europe's most powerful economy, is urging more
room for diplomacy while others, including Britain and France
pushing for tougher action.
German growth could be reduced by up to 0.9 percentage
points this year if the EU imposes tougher sanctions, a German
magazine reported, citing a European Commission study.
Barroso, who said he had met Russian President Vladimir
Putin more than 20 times during his time in office and had
spoken frequently with him during the crisis, said Putin's
ambition to strengthen ties with some of the former Soviet Union
states to create a new Eurasian Union was behind the crisis.
"He wants to build on that and enlarge it to become a
Eurasian Union, a kind of a pole of power opposed to the
European Union, unfortunately," he said.
Barroso also defended the record of the Commission in the
financial crisis which took the euro zone to the brink of
collapse in late 2011, saying it had taken the right decisions
in defending the stability of the single currency.
"The existential crisis of the euro, I think we can say is
solved now," he said.
"No complacency, some problems remain and we know the
difficulties that exist mainly in social terms but the reality
is that those observers, those analysts in Europe and outside
who were predicting the Greek exit, they were predicting the
implosion of the euro, they were completely wrong. They are the
ones who have to apologize."
(Reporting By James Mackenzie)