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20th Sep 2021

Barroso fears powerful 'European president'

  • The EU's Lisbon Treaty has raised a whole series of questions about external representation (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has sided with smaller member states in trying to restrict the role of the proposed president of the European Council, a new post created by the Lisbon Treaty.

Addressing the European Parliament on Wednesday (7 October), Mr Barroso chastised MEPs for referring to the post as "president of Europe."

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"I am sorry, there will not be a president of Europe. There will be, if we have Lisbon, the president of the European Council. It is important to understand that point because sometimes I think there are some ideas about certain derives institutionelles [institutional drifts]," he said.

Loosely defined in the treaty itself, talk about the nature of the president's role has become one of the main topics in Brussels in recent days, as national governments deliberate whether the post should go to a well-known personality from a big country or a more discreet politician.

The exact job description will be written by the first person holding the job, with ex British prime minister Tony Blair among the most-mentioned candidates for the post. It is widely agreed that a politician of Mr Blair's standing would take the post far beyond the largely administrative role foreseen in the treaty.

According to the treaty, which is still awaiting full ratification by all 27 member states, the president is supposed to chair the regular meetings of EU leaders - known as the European Council - and to drive forward their work.

Mr Barroso, who himself enjoys attending international summits on behalf of the EU, has a personal stake in the issue.

A powerful council president would upset the power balance in the EU and would likely see Mr Barroso relegated to a more much Brussels-based role.

The commission president has no formal powers in appointing the European Council president but he warned: "The European Commission will not accept the idea that the president of European Council is the president of Europe."

Mr Barroso's remarks came shortly after a leaked paper on the new Lisbon Treaty posts by Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg underlined the importance of maintaining the "institutional balance" of the union. The paper has been interpreted in some quarters as an anti-Blair move.

Poland has also prepared a document on the role of the president of the European Council. Earlier this week, Polish Europe minister Mikolaj Dowgielewicz indicated to EUobserver the limited role that Warsaw foresees for the new president.

"We have to recognise that the Polish minister of finance or agriculture will only take instructions from his prime minister. He will not take instructions from the president of the council," he said.

Some member states, such as France, have indicated they want to create a major player with the presidential job by appointing someone who can open doors in the US and China and who can give the EU some gravitas on the world stage.

Mr Blair's is not the only name that has been put forward in connection to the job. Other possible contenders mooted include Dutch leader Jan-Peter Balkenende; Luxembourg leader Jean-Claude Juncker and Felipe Gonzalez, a former Spanish prime minister.

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