Sweden calls for clarity on European Commission post
By Honor Mahony
Sweden has said it needs Jose Manuel Barroso to be given full and clear backing for a second term as commission president or its term as EU presidency country, beginning in July, will be weakened.
Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt dismissed proposals – said to come from France – that Mr Barroso be given interim backing next week until October when the commission's current term expires and a new set of institutional rules is possibly in place.
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"We intend to elect Mr Barroso as president of the commission ... but it should be a full mandate," said Mr Reinfeldt, on Tuesday (9 June).
He said a half endorsement while the EU waits to see ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is completed would "put pressure on the capacity of the Swedish presidency" to react to major issues such as the financial crisis and climate change – with the latter due at an international CO2-reduction agreement by the end of the year.
Mr Reinfeldt also rejected the option of not making any nomination at next week's EU summit and waiting to agree the commission post as well as the new EU foreign minister and EU president in October, if the treaty is ratified, all in one go.
Paris is said to be keen on this idea as it would give it more leverage with Mr Barroso when it comes to the exact job description of the next French commissioner.
In addition, nominating Mr Barroso, formerly Portugal's centre-right prime minister, next week would narrow down the options for the posts up for grabs in October, with political and geographical factors taken into account during the horse-trading.
But the wait would leave the commission "in limbo", said the Swedish leader, at a time when "everything is shifting around."
Sweden takes over the running of the EU on 1 July and faces the twin pressures of working with a commission that is finishing its mandate as well as a newly-elected parliament, which will take a few months to find its feet.
Stockholm's endorsement came the same day as Mr Barroso officially confirmed his candidacy for the job, something that has been discussed in Brussels for the best part of two years.
Speaking at a news conference after a meeting with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, currently heading the EU, Mr Barroso said he was honoured to have been asked to declare his candidacy.
But he said he would only accept the job if the commission's proposals in areas such as climate change, financial regulation and unemployment are improved.
"This acceptance pre-supposes that the European Council and European Parliament embrace the ambitious programme that I will propose for Europe for the next five years," he said.
Mr Barroso, whom critics say has spent too much time wooing big member states in the hope of getting a second term, now looks almost certain to be endorsed by EU leaders at their traditional summer summit next week.
Mr Fischer will now ring around the capitals to see if anyone is likely to object or has plans to put up another candidate.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered her support immediately: "We already said that Mr Barroso has our support - at least from my side."
If nominated, Mr Barroso has to be approved by a simple majority in the European Parliament in July. The centre-right EPP, which maintained its dominance in the house after the elections, is backing him but it needs more allies to secure the nomination.
The Socialists, for their part, are critical of what they say is Mr Barroso's pro-market bent. But they have been unable to put up a candidate from their own ranks and have been left wounded after poor results in the EU vote across most member states.