Sarkozy backs Barroso for second go as EU commission president
By Honor Mahony
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has backed Jose Manuel Barroso to be president of the European Commission for a second term.
Mr Sarkozy, who has just taken on the EU's six month presidency, told a joint press conference with Mr Barroso: "If the question is 'Do I have a candidate?', the answer is 'Yes'. If the question is 'Is he sitting at the same table as me?', the answer is also 'Yes'."
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Sitting at the same podium in Strasbourg on Thursday (10 July), European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering also threw his weight behind Mr Barroso, saying: "I also have a candidate: He's in this room."
All three politicians come from the centre-right European People's Party, currently the biggest political family in Europe.
For his part, Mr Barroso did not acknowledge the endorsement directly but still managed to set out his political stall in a winding answer in which he concluded that he was not a "bureaucrat or a technocrat but (…) a democrat."
The Portuguese former prime minister, who has made no secret of his desire to see through another five-year term as commission president after his mandate expires in autumn 2009, appeared to appeal to other political parties to look for consensus on nominating the next commission chief rather than concentrating on the fact that he comes from a particular political party.
"The different political forces have to put forward their positions - and their divergent positions - but not in such a way as to jeopardise the need for consensus," said Mr Barroso.
He went on to remind his political foes that the commission is not like a national government, often with one political force, but "will always necessarily be a broad coalition with all the different parties represented in numbers because they come from different governments."
"We have to be careful in our interpretation of this as having anything to do with my position individually," said Mr Barroso.
Who's up for the job
The question of who will be next commission president is about the only area where governments can out aloud speculate about possible candidates, as other major posts – such as the EU foreign minister and EU president – have been put on hold since the Irish last month rejected the treaty that would create these positions.
The commission president is set to be chosen in light of the result of the European elections – meaning that EU leaders are likely to nominate a candidate from the political family that wins the most seats in the European Parliament in June 2009, a provision contained in the Lisbon Treaty that MEPs are keen to see used.
While the EPP will be battling to maintain its electoral supremacy, the Socialists – currently second biggest party – will be hoping to tear down their throne by cashing in on the fears that EU citizens have shown about globalisation and what it could mean for their jobs and livelihoods.
Mr Barroso is likely to be pleased by the support from a major country, but is also likely to remember that his nomination in 2004 only came about as an afterthought when Britain blocked the will of France and Germany to get their favoured candidate in.
In addition, Mr Sakorzy has proved fickle in the past. Earlier this year, he supported Tony Blair for EU president but then later changed his mind.
But the French president's comments will crank up the Brussels rumour mill as the political hue of the commission president will have knock-on effects for the other posts - particularly the EU president and EU foreign minister, which could still see the light of day if Paris and Berlin eventually succeed in getting the next EU treaty in place despite Ireland's referendum rejection on 12 June.