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25th May 2019

Barroso admits legitimacy problem for commission president post

  • Mr Barroso, formerly Portuguese PM, has been commission president since 2004 (Photo: Portuguese EU presidency 2007)

European commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said that the European elections, regularly marked by voter apathy and low turnout, create a legitimacy problem for his post.

"I really believe we have a problem there," said Mr Barroso responding to a question about whether European citizens should have the power to directly elect the person to fill his post.

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He added that: "From a formal point of view, its a perfect system" but admitted that in practice it is different.

Under rules of the new EU treaty the president of the commission has to be chosen in light of the result of the European elections, meaning the post goes to a person of the political grouping that wins the most seats in the European Parliament.

Mr Barroso, who pointed to the fact that the French prime minister was chosen by the French president or that former British prime minister Tony Blair was an MP before being chosen to become leader, said that although the "commission has the same legitimacy as prime ministers (...) in practice this is not the case."

"The question is of substantive legitimacy," he said, while speaking at a dinner organised by the Centre for European Policy Studies on Wednesday (27 February).

Elections to the 785-seat EU assembly take place every five years. Despite attempts to create pan-European debate, fostered by the creation of European political parties and lately proposals to set up political foundations at the European level, the elections remain national affairs, often with local or domestic issues coming into play.

Analysts says that if citizens were casting their vote to choose from a list of candidate for the job of commission president then turnout would likely be much higher - in the last round of elections in 2004 turnout was around 30 percent in some member states.

Mr Barroso noted that there is "no European political space" adding that this would "take time" to get away from the current 28 political systems at play - those of the 27 member states and the "Brussels beltway."

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While the elusive European political space is unlikely to spring up between now and the June 2009 European elections, an anti-EU treaty platform and the wish of the European Commission president to hold his post for a second time may go some way to fostering some European debate.

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