Thursday

21st Feb 2019

Vote gives commission more 'authority,' says Barroso

  • Jose Manuel Barroso said the vote was a "great honour but also a great responsibility" (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Jose Manuel Barroso was re-elected for a second five-year term as president of the European Commission by a clear majority in the European Parliament on Wednesday (16 September), putting an end to weeks of uncertainty and sabre rattling by his opponents in the EU house.

Against many predictions, the centre-right Portuguese politician won an absolute majority of the 736-strong parliament hauling in 382 votes in his favour, 219 against and 117 abstentions.

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A clearly delighted Mr Barroso, who received a bouquet of flowers from the Swedish EU presidency, thanked MEPs for their "expression of confidence" and pledged to work "with all political groups" in the parliament.

Charged by critics with being a weak president too willing to bow to the wishes of large member states, Mr Barroso said his re-election gives the commission and its president "great authority."

"I will use that [political] capital for more energy for Europe."

While pledging "loyalty" to member states, he said he would in future "challenge" those countries who are looking out for "strictly national interests."

He refused to apologise for his leadership style, a point of strong criticism for his opponents, saying that building consensus and the art of compromise is the way Europe works.

Based on anti-Europeans

The result puts an end to attempts by the Socialist group ahead of the vote to position anything less than an absolute majority as a failure deserving of another vote at a later point.

The leverage from this scenario would have come from a new set of EU institutional rules, the Lisbon Treaty, that may come into force in the near future and which requires an absolute majority for election of the commission president, rather than a simple majority of votes cast under current rules.

Socialist leader Martin Schulz, a voluble critic of Mr Barroso over the past weeks, painted the outcome in harsh terms, however.

Speaking to journalists after the vote he said: "Barroso is a weak commission president because he took the votes of the anti-Europeans, who are the only group that voted unanimously for him. It's not a comfortable majority."

The bulk of the Barroso majority in the secret ballot came from the centre-right EPP and the eurosceptic ECR. But some liberals and some of Mr Schulz's own socialists, particularly split on the issue, also voted for him.

Mr Schulz blamed the failure to block Mr Barroso on the national governments in Spain, Portugal and the UK, which backed the commission president despite being left-wing and said he would now channel his energy towards getting more Socialist portfolios in the new commission.

Next steps

With the president in place, thoughts are now turning to filling the remaining commissioners posts. But the EU's possible but uncertain move to the Lisbon Treaty is creating political and legal headaches.

Mr Barroso said he would wait until after the Irish referendum on 2 October before thinking about forming his commission, with the current Nice and Lisbon treaties differing on the composition of the EU executive.

However, even if the Irish vote in favour, the fate of the Lisbon Treaty remains unclear as the Czech Republic is dragging its feet on final ratification of the document.

The Swedish EU presidency would like to get the whole issue of posts, a question that is highly distracting for member states sorted by the end of October if possible.

Speaking to EUobserver, Swedish Europe minister Cecilia Malmstrom said:

"No decision whatsoever can be made before the Irish referendum, because we don't know whether we'll have a Nice or a Lisbon commission. For instance, if we'll have an external action service, that might reflect on the number of commissioners in the [external relations] area.

If everything goes well, if there's a yes in Dublin and all the states have ratified in October, our ambitious, optimistic goal is to get the whole package for the October summit (29-30 October)."

But she admitted that Prague could be the big sticking point.

"If there is a no in Ireland, then obviously the commission will be appointed on Nice. If there's a yes and still there are uncertainties in the Czech Republic, then we'll have to figure out if there's any possibility to get a date, an answer. If it's just postponed on and on, then we'll have to form a Nice commission, even if Lisbon is ratified by everybody else."

The Nice Treaty foresees a reduction in the number of commissioners but does not specify how many. If Ireland votes no to Lisbon, then member states will have to solve this.

The Swedish prime minister recently indicated that a solution would be to give the member state that does not get a commissioner the post of EU foreign policy chief.

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