• EU leaders are meeting in Brussels on 18-19 June (Photo: © European Communities)

Socialists warn EU leaders to respect parliament on Barroso issue

13.06.09 @ 00:34

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - The European Socialists have warned EU leaders meeting next week in Brussels not to disrespect the European Parliament by formally agreeing to appoint commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term in office.

Following a meeting on Friday (12 June ) of representatives from national delegations to discuss the beating that the left took in last week's European elections, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, head of the European socialists, said their main message was to "be careful."

"Don't make any decisions of a binding character as far as the president of the commission is concerned."

He pointed out that the parliament as a whole on 7 May agreed that the next commission president should be appointed under the Lisbon Treaty - yet to be approved throughout the EU.

Mr Rasmussen warned that the majority of votes needed on the 14 July "will not be that automatically obtained in such a combative atmosphere."

He noted that if EU leaders plough ahead with their decision they will have done so before consulting with the parliament. Discussions with political leaders in the EU assembly will only begin in the week after the summit.

The socialists, who have been engaged in serious soul-searching for failing to appeal to voters despite the economic crisis, have since been buoyed by the news that Italy's Democratic Party (DP) has joined their ranks.

This swells their numbers by 21 deputies to 182, second to the centre-right EPP's 264.

Empty threat?

However Mr Rasmussen's threat rang hollow when he admitted that he was not sure what the socialists would do if EU leaders ignored their warning and went ahead and gave Mr Barroso formal approval for a second term in office.

He said this still had to be "discussed."

In addition, while saying that the socialists "cannot support [Mr] Barroso," the party still has no alternative candidate of their own.

"We are simply not there yet," admitted the Dane, who was once rumoured to be seeking the job himself.

The socialists' lack of a candidate is seen both as a result of internal divisions as well as reluctance to stand when a centre-right candidate is highly likely to get the job.

The centre-right overwhelmingly won the EU elections and EU leaders are generally expected to choose the person in light of this result.

Barroso

Mr Barroso, who has long been thought of a virtual shoo-in for the job now has to contend with Germany and France only wanting to give him political, rather than formal, backing for the post and a restive parliament.

Paris and Berlin, as well as the socialists, are keen to wait for the Irish to vote in October and possibly agree to the Lisbon Treaty.

Their motives are different however. Paris and Berlin want to have leverage with Mr Barroso over the future portfolios for their new commissioners.

Meanwhile, the later reappointment of Mr Barroso could allow leftish or anti-Barroso MEPs to come up with an alternative candidate.

The later timetable would leave Mr Barroso in uncertain waters for several months as he waits to see if he gets the mandate to lead the EU executive until 2014.

A delay could lessen his chances of being re-elected as other posts may also be up for grabs.

The commission president has an ally in Sweden though. Stockholm wants full formal approval given next week so it can work with an un-distracted commission president on the important issues of its presidency, starting 1 July.