Verhofstadt: We’ll talk to Barroso in September

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The leader of the Liberal group Guy Verhofstadt told EURACTIV that today’s (9 July) decision by EU heads of state and government to officially back José Manuel Barroso for a second term as Commission president “doesn’t change anything”.

Speaking after the Council’s announcement that EU leaders had made official their support for Barroso by written procedure, Verhofstadt made it plain that no decision will be taken by the Parliament before the autumn. 

Barroso will still have to present his programme and make it public, Verhostadt said, adding that the Commission president cannot go to the Socialist group and say that his priority is employment, and then go to the Greens and tell them his priority is environment. 

Neil Corlett, spokesperson for the ALDE group, also said that Barroso would have to publish his programme, and then come to Parliament to meet the political groups on 8-9 September, just before the September plenary. Then the groups will decide whether to back him or not. According to this scenario, Barroso would probably make a statement in plenary on 15 September. 

Next week in Strasbourg, the ALDE group will adopt a memorandum on what they believe should be addressed by the Commission in the next five years, in particular regarding the world economic crisis, and then send it to Barroso with a letter specifying their concrete requests, which the Liberals hope he would take on board, Corlett said. 

Barroso’s public programme is expected to be published within the next few weeks. Once this is done, the ALDE group will invite him to discuss his priorities and the group’s priorities, possibly on 9 September. Then, the Liberals will decide whether to back him either immediately after hearing him, or they will take a decision at the Strasbourg session, staring on 14 September. 

This will happen “if he still is the only candidate,” Corlett added, stressing that there could be another candidate by then. But he insisted that at this stage he had received no indication that there would be another contender for the top Commission job. 

Commission president José Manuel Barroso sent a letter to the European Parliament following the decision by the EU's heads of state and government to formalize his nomination for the 2009-2014 mandate. Barroso said: 

"I thank the Member States for their confidence. I take it as a great responsibility to have the unanimous support of the heads of state and government of all 27 Member States. This is of course an important step in a process. The last word is with the European Parliament. I stand ready to engage with the Parliament's political groups in the discussion of the policy orientations I propose. 

The challenges we face - from the economic and financial crisis to climate change and energy security - call for a clear vision, a strong EU and a sustained cooperation between strong EU institutions. I believe that I have the vision and the experience to lead the Commission as it tackles these challenges. 

I look forward to a fruitful discussion with the Parliament." 

José Manuel Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government at their 18-19 June summit for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission (EURACTIV 19/06/09). However, EU leaders did not formalise his nomination, awaiting further negotiations with European Parliament group leaders. 

The newly-elected European Parliament meets for its first session on 14 July and will elect its president on the same day. The European People's Party, Barroso's political family, has been pushing for a vote in support of the Portuguese in plenary on 15 July. 

Sweden, holder of the rotating EU presidency, strongly insists on re-appointing Barroso as soon as possible, arguing that in a time of crisis, the Union needs a Commission president who is fully in power (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on the Swedish EU Presidency). 

However, after consultations mediated by the Swedish EU Presidency had taken place, it emerged that the European Parliament will not hold a vote on Barroso's re-appointment at its July plenary (EURACTIV 02/07/09). This was largely due to the position adopted by Guy Verhofstadt, the new leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). 

The former Belgian prime minister, who was elected unopposed as ALDE leader on 30 June, said he and his group would "not accept timetables imposed on Parliament". Earlier, the Green group had announced that they would oppose a July vote on Barroso, joining calls made on 18 June by the Socialists. 

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