Sarkozy and Merkel offer Barroso 'conditional' backing
France and Germany are refusing to give EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso full formal backing to become head of the institution for a second time at next week's summit, insisting the support should be political only.
The two leaders on Thursday (11 June) said that their backing for the Portuguese politician was "unambiguous" but not unconditional.
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"Important personnel and policy decisions must be taken immediately. That is why Germany and France support Jose Manuel Barroso," German chancellor Angela Merkel said at a joint press conference with French president Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
The French leader echoed these statements, but explained that France and Germany wanted "a political decision" on Mr Barroso's reappointment to be reached at the 18-19 June EU summit, not a "formal" one.
"I can tell you that Ms Merkel and myself, we will support Mr Barroso's candidacy, without ambiguity," Mr Sarkozy said.
"We wish… that a political decision be taken at the next [European] Council" to appoint Mr Barroso for a second mandate, "before taking a formal legal decision" later on, he added.
The French leader explained that this "political decision" could then be "ratified" by the European Parliament in July.
The manoeuvre would be made in order to avoid appointing the entire EU commission under the Treaty of Nice on which the EU is currently based and which foresees a reduction in the number of commissioners in the next commission.
On the other hand, if the Lisbon treaty is eventually agreed, the number of commissioners remains the same, following a political agreement by EU leaders last year.
If Ireland approves the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum that should take place in the autumn, "there will be… a second decision to name the commission president, this time based on Lisbon and not Nice."
Keeping Mr Barroso in a legal limbo would also give both leaders more say over the portfolios of their new commissioners.
Clash with Sweden
The two leaders also insisted that Mr Barroso had to present a clear programme in order to win their total backing.
"We have asked Mr Barroso… to clarify, to make formal, in a way, his intentions before this second term," the French president said, explaining that Mr Barroso had to commit himself to "a Europe that protects Europeans" and to improving financial regulation – both points being dear to Paris.
"It is Mr Barroso and a programme. Or a programme and Mr Barroso," Mr Sarkozy added.
The terms of the re-appointment of Mr Barroso is set to be a flash point at next week's summit with Sweden, as incoming EU presidency, insisting that he be given full approval so Stockholm has an able partner to work with over the second half of the year.
Opposition in the parliament
Meanwhile, opposition to Mr Barroso is building up in the EU parliament, which will vote on the commission president nominee in July.
The leader of the Socialist group in the parliament, Martin Schulz, wrote to EU leaders on Thursday urging them to delay their decision because of the need for a commission "that puts people first" as well as for a clear legal basis for the appointment.
"Any attempt to force a rapid decision in this matter could only lead to a rejection from our Group," Mr Schulz warned.
The Socialists suffered a blow at the European elections, but remain the second biggest force in the new parliament. Mr Barroso's candidacy is also opposed by some Liberal and Green MEPs.