Barroso launches bid for second term on platform of building strong Europe

 

JOSÉ MANUEL Barroso has launched his candidacy for a second term as European Commission president and called on EU leaders to embrace his vision of a strong Europe.

At a meeting in Brussels yesterday with Czech prime minister Jan Fischer, who chairs the EU presidency, Mr Barroso said he was privileged to be president and had accepted Mr Fischer’s request to put his name forward as a candidate.

“I am therefore honoured that the president of the European Council has today asked me if he can put forward my name for a second mandate . . . I have agreed to this request,” said Mr Barroso, who has already won the backing of the victorious centre-right EPP group in the parliament for the nomination.

Mr Barroso was appointed president of the commission in November 2004 as a compromise candidate following the withdrawal of several high-profile candidates. The centre-right politician served as Portuguese prime minister between 2002 and 2004 before taking up the job as head of the EU executive for a five-year term.

EU leaders will debate who to nominate as commission president next week at a summit in Brussels. The European Parliament is then expected to vote to confirm or reject the candidate chosen by the European Council on July 15th.

Mr Barroso has support from EPP leaders such as Poland’s Donald Tusk and Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who said delaying the formal nomination would “add uncertainty” at a time of economic crisis.

He has also secured public backing from several socialist prime ministers such as Britain’s Gordon Brown, Spain’s José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Portugal’s José Sócrates, who refused to back any socialist candidate.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy remains a potential hurdle to a second Barroso nomination. Paris argues that the formal nomination of commission president should wait until the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty in the autumn.

Mr Sarkozy has clashed publicly with Mr Barroso over several key issues, including his plans to bail out sections of the French car industry. Mr Barroso is also deeply unpopular in France where he is considered an economic liberal who favours the free market over social protection.

Commission sources say French reticence to offer an early nomination to Mr Barroso is an attempt to pressure him to give Paris one of the big economic posts in a new commission, which will be appointed in the autumn.

But Paris says a formal nomination and appointment should wait until October when the EU will learn if Lisbon can enter into force, a move that would create the powerful new post of president of the European Council.

Berlin also supports delaying the nomination in favour of making “a clear political signal”. The issue will be addressed at a bilateral meeting between Mr Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel, who together are likely to have the biggest say on whether Mr Barroso gets a second term.

Mr Barroso has also pointedly left the door open to walk away from his candidacy by making it conditional on EU states supporting his programme.

“I will assess whether my ambition for Europe is matched by the ambition of the member states and the European Parliament and make my final decision accordingly,” said Mr Barroso, in reference to the consultations between EU leaders that Mr Fischer will conduct over the next week.