Re-elected Barroso due in Ireland at weekend to campaign for Lisbon

 

EUROPEAN COMMISSION president José Manuel Barroso will travel to Ireland this Saturday to campaign for a Yes vote in the Lisbon referendum.

He confirmed the visit yesterday following his re-election by MEPs for a second five-year term as president of the EU executive. The European Parliament voted by 382 votes to 219 to endorse Mr Barroso, who had already secured the backing of all 27 EU leaders.

“Honestly, I think now I have reinforced authority . . . After five years [that were] so difficult, so difficult politically, economically, having this clear reaffirmation of support – it’s great,” said Mr Barroso, who until recently had faced opposition from three of the big political groups in the parliament.

At a press conference following the vote in Strasbourg, he signalled that his first priority was to get the Lisbon Treaty ratified to end EU institutional debates. “I’m a very strong supporter of the Lisbon Treaty, I believe it is important because it reinforces our capacity to act and with 27 states we need it . . . Next Saturday I will be in Ireland for a discussion on the Lisbon Treaty,” he said.

Mr Barroso will travel to Limerick on Saturday and Sunday, where he will meet students at the University of Limerick, local politicians and several civil society groups. He is not expected to meet Taoiseach Brian Cowen, but will hold talks with members of the Oireachtas committee on European Affairs.

The re-election of Mr Barroso, a 53-year-old former Portuguese prime minister, was widely expected given that no rival candidate had emerged in recent months. But winning an absolute majority of MEPs’ support should provide him with a stronger mandate to lead the EU through a period of economic, social and institutional upheaval.

Mr Barroso is the first commission president to be reappointed since Jacques Delors, who spearheaded European integration from 1985 to 1994.

Responding to trenchant criticism from Socialist and Green MEPs that he had bowed to big member states during his first term, he pledged to lead an independent and stronger Europe. “As president of the commission my party is Europe – the commission will defend general European interests, and that is exactly what we are going to do in the next five years,” said Mr Barroso.

He also pledged to pursue consensus politics and to embrace political groups other than his own centre-right European People’s Party. However, most of the Socialist group abstained in the vote, while most Green MEPs voted against his re-election.

Green leader Daniel Cohn Bendit said he opposed Mr Barroso, saying “we think we deserve somebody better”.

Member states usually begin formally nominating their commissioners following the election of commission president. But Mr Barroso made clear yesterday that the formal nomination process should not begin until after the Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. If the Treaty cannot enter into force, EU leaders will have to meet to decide how to reduce the size of the commission in line with the Nice Treaty’s rules. These state that the number of commissioners in the next commission must be less than the number of member states.