Sarkozy vague on Barroso’s EU future

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has recommended waiting until Ireland votes on the Lisbon Treaty for a second time before endorsing a candidate to succeed José Manuel Barroso as next president of the European Commission.

Speaking at the conclusion of an extraordinary EU summit on Sunday (1 March), Sarkozy declined to give unreserved support for the former Portuguese prime minister.

“Regarding the different candidacies, as you know we are subject to the decision of our Irish friends for the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty and depending on that, we will ask ourselves the question,” he said.

A second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is expected to take place in October, despite earlier suggestions that the vote could be rescheduled to coincide with the June European elections (EURACTIV 13/02/09).

Sarkozy insisted that it would be unwise to choose an earlier date. “I think if we want to be a little clever, we should better wait for the Irish to vote [before appointing a new Commission president] rather than deciding before they vote.”

The French president suggested that there would be a popular backlash against detached European elites if a candidate were to be chosen beforehand. “If we want to have everyone going against us, then let us [name the new Commission president before the Irish vote].”

Sarkozy then reiterated his personal liking for Barroso. “You know I like Mr Barroso a lot, I have enjoyed working with him [during the French Presidency], I have trust in him and I have trust in the Commission. There you go. That way, it is clear.”

Barroso has made no secret of the fact that he is seeking a second term as Commission president and he received support from his political family, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), at a summit in October last year (EURACTIV 16/10/08).

Barroso took up his post at the Commission on 1 November 2004 and his current mandate will expire at the end of October 2009.

However, the former Portuguese prime minister was not the first choice of EU leaders in 2004, but rather a compromise acceptable to both left and liberal leaders, who had rejected conservative candidates who were seen as too federalist, like Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean Claude Juncker and Jan Peter Balkenende, his Dutch counterpart. 

Speaking to journalists recently, French State Secretary for EU Affairs Bruno Lemaire was equally vague. Questioned as to whether Barroso was putting his European future at stake with the French auto bailout plan, he responded: “Being a politician myself, I can only tell you that political futures are fragile in essence.”

On the auto rescue plan, Sarkozy said: “Really, I would be quite unthankful if I didn’t appreciate the speed with which the Commission has certified, validated and promoted the French automobile plan.” But he reiterated his stance that a Europe-wide plan would have been preferable, saying an EIB policy that limits loans to 400 million euro per carmaker did not go far enough given the car industry’s global reach.

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