16th Sep 2019

EU Council president must manage national leaders, says Barroso

  • The Council chamber in Brussels, where EU leaders meet for summits (Photo: Eurpoean Council)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says a future permanent president of the European Council must be able to stand up to member states that seek to pursue their own interests.

Speaking at a brainstorming session of European heavyweights on Friday (9 October) organised by Friends of Europe Mr Barroso also indicated that any holder of the new post – set to be created under the Lisbon Treaty - needs to have the necessary skills to create unity within the body that represents EU leaders.

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"The job of the president is to deliver the results of a European Council," he said. "Someone who will fight to reach agreement in the European Council."

He added that the selected individual must also have a good understanding of the "community method'" but refused to be drawn on whether former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair met these requirements.

Mr Blair has emerged as a frontrunner in recent days following reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been persuaded to swing behind the British candidate.

But a paper circulated by the Benelux countries this week that seeks to limit the scope for the role has been interpreted as an attempt to thwart Mr Blair's bid after an unnamed Belgian diplomat was quoted in French daily Le Monde as saying that the document showed that the former British prime minister "is not best placed to occupy the function."

Speaking on the sidelines of the Friday's meeting, former commissioner Etienne Davignon told EUobserver that Mr Blair was clearly not the right candidate.

While agreeing that the former Labour leader has a sufficiently high profile to influence the European Council, Mr Davignon said his British background essentially ruled him out.

"Yes he is a big character but you can't do the job if your member state is not in big EU policies [such as EMU]," said the prominent industrialist, who currently sits on the board of numerous cross-border companies and is a key behind-the-scenes mover in European circles.

Lisbon not enough

While diplomats in Brussels this week have worked overtime to lay down the exact role of the anticipated European Council president, Mr Barroso said 2009 was a perfect example of why such a post was needed.

So far this year, the Portuguese politician has had the pleasure of working with no fewer than four holders of the position.

In March the center-right government of former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek – whose country held the EU presidency at the time - fell following a vote of no confidence in parliament.

The baton was subsequently picked up by the country's eurosceptic president Vaclav Klaus, who proceeded to chair of a number of high-profile events such as an EU-Russia summit, before the current caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer stepped in. And now Sweden's prime minister, Frederik Reinfeldt, is at the helm.

"No other institution, not even a football club, has done that," said Mr Barroso.

While welcoming the recent Yes vote in the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Mr Barroso issued a warning that its final ratification would not be enough to help Europe tackle the important issues on the horizon.

"The Lisbon Treaty increases our ability to act but nothing replaces the willingness of member states," he said, singling out social policy as a case in point.

The outbreak of the financial crisis last year and the Commission's weak powers in the area of social policy have seen member states opting to deal with the mounting jobs crisis on a national basis.

"I tried to call an EU unemployment summit in Prague at the start of the year but it was downgraded," said Mr Barroso.

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