Monday

21st Jun 2021

EU left to back Barroso under social agenda

  • The socialists have no counter-candidate for Jose Manuel Barroso (Photo: EUobserver)

Socialists in the European Parliament have said they will reject any bid by Jose Manuel Barroso to lead the European Commission for a second term unless he agrees to initiate more social policies.

Their conditional backing comes as they have not been able to find a candidate of their own, mainly due to internal disagreements.

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The centre-right EPP, on the other hand, has already formally endorsed Mr Barroso for a second mandate ahead of the European elections on 4-7 June.

One of the names floated as a potential counter-candidate to Mr Barroso was former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the leader of the European socialists. Yet this option appears to be off the table since at least two Socialist governments – the UK and Spain – openly back Mr Barroso.

Denmark's EU membership is also problematic as the country it is not a eurozone member and has opted out from the justice and home affairs area. Difficulties could also arise because another former Danish premier named Rasmussen, Anders Fogh, has just been nominated as NATO secretary general.

Hannes Swoboda, vice-president of Socialist group, said his faction could reject Mr Barroso's nomination if his mandate is not stronger on social policies, for instance on the working time directive or on economic coordination policies.

German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen conceded that by not putting forward a candidate, the left had missed a chance to score more votes in the elections. "It is a deficit on our side. We should have had our own candidate," he told EUobserver.

He added that if the centre-right came out top in the elections, as is indicated by current polls, the socialists would negotiate "legislative programme" for the second Barroso commission that would have a much stronger social dimension than the current one.

Keeping the centre-right–centre-left power stitch-up

Speaking at a separate press conference, Mr Leinen justified an agreement by centre-right and socialist MEPs to maintain a three-decade-long tradition of splitting the five-year tenure of the European Parliament president by saying they feared "instability" posed by new eurosceptical movements such as Libertas.

"I would like to see a political majority determining the institutional majority. But there are concerns about the instability of the Parliament and we don't know how all these anti-European MEPs will do in the elections," Mr Leinen said.

The left's calls for a stronger social agenda already heard an echo at the press conference of the European People's Partty – part of a series of farewell press conferences as the parliament ends its current legislative session - with the group's leader, Joseph Daul, talking extensively about the social market economy his party was defending in the 19 EU countries where they are in government.

"Socialists don't have a monopoly over social ideas." he said, stressing that other parties have not put forward any candidates for the EU commission's presidency.

Liberals wait for winner

Meanwhile, the Liberal group within the European Parliament, holding 103 seats in the 785-strong house was confident the three main political families would keep the roughly 75 percent of the EU legislative.

"The EU reached a point where a true coalition is needed, based on ideology rather than technical arrangements," Liberal leader Graham Watson said, announcing that he would not seek to be group leader again but would look to "new challenges."

Earlier this year, Mr Watson said he would challenge the Socialist-EPP agreement and run for the European Parliament's presidency himself.

The Liberal politician said there were certain people in the EPP and the Socialist groups not in favour of the agreement and saw two possibilities – either a centre-right alliance within the European Parliament to work together with the centre-right dominated Council of Ministers and European Commission or a centre-left majority in the EU legislature to act as balance to the centre-right executive.

The Liberals could go either way as they encompass all ideas from classical liberalism to social liberalism, he pointed out.

Asked if his faction would endorse Mr Barroso for a second mandate, Mr Watson said they would wait and see if the Socialists come forward with their own candidate.

"It's incredible the amount of the time Socialists put into attacking Barroso, but they don't put forward their own candidate. Either you put up or you shut up," he concluded.

EU power concentration

The only really strong criticism of Mr Barroso's potential re-appointment came from Green and leftist MEPs.

Portuguese MEP Ilda Figueiredo from the European United Left/Nordic Green left, the far-left grouping in the house, said that although she shared the same nationality as Mr Barroso, she would "in no way support his re-election."

"I totally disagree with most of the [European Commission's] policies. I hope the outcome of the elections will be different and that people will be given some indication that the social dimension will be taken into account" she said.

Monica Frassoni, the co-leader of the Greens, criticised the "tendency of parliament to fall into the hands of few people – heads of groups and administration – mainly from very few countries."

Unlike Mr Watson, who sees a stronger EU legislature at the end of its mandate, Ms Frassoni said the parliament had lost out on several big occasions, citing the 2005 EU constitutional crisis, when it had very little input.

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