Barroso fails to convince critics in parliament speech
By Honor Mahony
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Tuesday (15 September) went head to head with MEPs in a lively debate over his bid for a second term in office but failed to win over his critics.
The conservative Portuguese politician presented his policy programme to the plenary in Strasbourg in his trademark mixture of French and then English, speaking at first in generalities about the state of Europe in the world before moving on to a few specific proposals, such as the creation of separate commissioners for migration and fundamental rights.
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The lengthy speech, which contained some overtures to his left-wing opponents, appeared to leave the status quo in the parliament unchanged.
Directly afterwards, the centre-right EPP confirmed its support for him as did the Liberals - although they called their backing conditional - and the antifederalist ECR group.
The three groups look likely to ensure Mr Barroso the simple majority he needs when his mandate goes to vote at midday on Wednesday (16 September.)
However, the Socialists, as second largest group in the parliament after the EPP, said they would not back him, as did the Greens and the far left.
The eurosceptic Freedom and Democracy group also indicated it would not back Mr Barroso, citing his support for the Lisbon Treaty, the proposed new institutional rulebook for the Union.
Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists, accused Mr Barroso of "always help(ing) to serve governments" while Green leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit sarcastically noted: "Apparently everything is changing and Barroso is the guarantor of stability."
In his speech, Mr Barroso said he would propose a new law governing workers posted in other member states, make social impact assessments a norm and make a "comprehensive legislative proposal on the working time directive" - a law that regulates working hours but from which member states can exempt themselves.
These were sweeteners aimed directly at the Socialists, whose only weapon in the Barroso vote is the extent to which he wants multipartisan backing rather than just right-wing and eurosceptic support.
Mr Schulz warned that his group would also be instrumental when Mr Barroso is looking to put together his team of commissioners and will be closely looking at who gets what portfolio.
The debate was lively and, for European Parliament standards where consensual and polite politics between the main groups rules, at times quite personal.
Both Mr Cohn-Bendit and Mr Schulz rounded on Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt for his group's change from the anti-Barroso to the pro-Barroso camp.
Meanwhile Mr Barroso, who has been under sustained attack by Mr Cohn-Bendit since he was nominated by all EU governments in June, said: "You have an unhealthy obsession with me. I am certainly not obsessed by you."
Rounding off the afternoon's debate, Mr Barroso admitted that he would "prefer to have the support of the main political families."
"But some of them are excluding themselves from that. That's their choice," he added.
Referring to his policy guidelines that his critics accused of either being more of the same policies that contributed to the current financial crisis or too lacking in ambition, Mr Barroso replied: "Of course it's a compromise, but Europe only works on a compromise."
"At least give me the benefit of the doubt," he said, with the leaders of the Liberal and Socialist groups set to make their final positions on the Barroso vote clear on Tuesday evening.