EU Parliament heading for ‘grand coalition’

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European political groups including the European Conservatives, the Socialists and possibly the Liberals are preparing to back José Manuel Barroso for a second term at the EU executive’s helm this autumn, provided he takes stock of their political wish-lists, party sources told EURACTIV today (7 July).

The European Parliament’s political group chiefs, who are meeting on Thursday (9 July), are due to extend an invitation to José Manuel Barroso to present his five-year programme when the incumbent Commission president comes to the first session of the newly-elected assembly in Strasbourg next week. 

Before then, Parliament insiders said they expected Barroso to study the programmes of the main political parties and incorporate parts of them into his own five-year political agenda at the EU executive’s helm. 

The Swedish EU Presidency, which is insisting on getting Barroso re-appointed as soon as possible, invited group leaders to Stockholm for consultations yesterday (6 July). 

There, Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt backed down from his earlier insistence that Barroso’s re-appointment be voted upon at the Parliament’s July session, and acknowledged that the assembly’s desire to postpone the vote must be fully respected. 

He said he hoped the European Parliament would vote on the next Commission president in September (EURACTIV 06/07/09). 

Legislative pact 

At the Parliament’s July plenary, political group leaders will study Barroso’s political programme with utmost attention and will decide whether it can provide a basis for forming a ‘legislative pact’ with the Portuguese leader for the next five years. 

Barroso’s re-appointment could then be made official via a vote in the Parliament this autumn, sources said. 

Speaking in Stockholm yesterday, Joseph Daul, chairman of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), Barroso’s political family, said he expected the Portuguese to commit to his group’s priorities “in the framework of a legislative pact”. 

These, he said, include “a policy to take us out of the economic crisis based on a regulated social-market economy; a responsible energy and climate policy which allows companies to innovate and create growth and jobs; and enhanced security without protectionism”. 

For its part, the Liberal group headed by former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt is finalising its own wish-list for Barroso, party sources said. However, the Liberals fear that the EPP and the centre-left may have already agreed on such a pact in principle. 

The Greens are also finalising their programme and will present it next week. 

Technical agreement or grand coalition? 

Socialist sources said they preferred to view the agreement as “technical” rather than political. They indicated that their election manifesto had formed the basis of their demands for the next European Commission and, as such, remained valid (EURACTIV 11/02/09). 

The “technical agreement”, the Socialists argue, is limited to the appointment of the next president of the European Parliament, where the two largest political groups are expected to share the top seat for two-and-a-half years each. 

Conservatives and Socialists are widely expected to agree that EPP-affiliated former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek will lead the Parliament for the next two-and-a-half years, followed by Socialist leader Martin Schulz in the next term. The power-sharing deal is also believed to include several key committee chairs. 

Helmut Weixler, head of the press office for the Green group, told EURACTIV that he believes the Socialists have already agreed to form a “grand coalition” with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) after the summer break. 

“They will vote for Barroso in the autumn,” Weixler told EURACTIV, describing an alliance between the EPP and the Socialists as “the only possible stable coalition in the Parliament”. 

Martin Schulz, who leads the Socialists in the EU assembly, left “a huge door open” to the subsequent endorsement of José Manuel Barroso when he addressed the press last week, Weixler said (EURACTIV 2/07/09). 

“They [the Socialists] will probably deny it but at the end of the day, there will be a grand coalition in the autumn,” he added. 

José Manuel Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission at the June EU summit (EURACTIV 19/06/09). 

However, EU leaders did not formalise their nomination, awaiting further negotiations with European Parliament group leaders. 

The European People's Party, Barroso's political family, has been pushing for a vote during the Parliament's opening plenary session on 15 July. 

EU leaders instructed the Swedish EU Presidency to start negotiations with the EU assembly's political groups to see whether a majority of MEPs are ready to support him. 

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