As sources told EurActiv, the meeting of the centre-left party leaders, marked by the absence of the prime ministers of two of the three EU countries where the centre-left is in power without coalition partners (UK and Spain), ended in controversy concerning the reasons why the PES was badly defeated in the recent European elections (EurActiv 08/06/09).
While Zapatero was told to be blocked by farmers protests outside the conference venue, this absence can also be explained by the fact these leaders have been consistently backing the re-election of José Manuel Barroso as Commission president for a second five-year mandate. Experts claim the PES lacks an alternative candidate for Barroso's job precisely as a result of the positions of these leaders.
But the two prime ministers from centre-left parties present, Bulgaria's Sergei Stanishev and Hungary's Gordon Bajnai, also support Barroso. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Stanishev voiced support for the EPP candidate.
"He did a lot for Bulgaria and supported our EU membership, even though there were certain political circles that opposed it," Stanishev said.
As Stanishev was speaking, an official in Sofia announced that the European Commission had unblocked 1.38 billion euros of funds for highway reconstruction and regional aid, which was blocked due to corruption and bad management of EU funds.
Ironically, Stanishev and Mircea Geoana, leader of the Romanian Social Democrat party, which is one of the two pillars of his country's governing coalition, were sitting next to Dutch socialist Frans Timmermans, who asked the Commission to consider activating safeguard clauses against Bulgaria and Romania (EurActiv 18/06/09).
For his part, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, president of the Party of European Socialists, lambasted Barroso, saying that "he is not the man of our confidence". Martin Schulz, whom the Socialist group re-nominated as its president for the next five years on the same occasion, highlighted what he called Barroso's "negative record" during his five-year term so far. He also expressed dislike for Barroso's programme.
Asked by EurActiv how these positions could possibly be in harmony with the views of the centre-left prime ministers who support Barroso, Schulz said that they had had "a very open debate" about the issue. He added that national positions must be considered in a specific perspective, while in his words, there is no majority in the European Parliament in favour of Barroso.
Schulz also indicated that MEPs from the countries whose prime ministers are supporting Barroso would vote against him, adding that this was not a novelty in itself.
"The European Parliament is a freely-elected assembly of parliamentarians. It's not an assembly of ambassadors of their countries," he said.